It crossed my mind during the course of this game that even in they Golden Age of Hansbrough, UNC had games like this. Don't believe me? Take a walk down memory lane and look at some of the games UNC scored 90-100 points but also gave up over 80. I can name several off the top of my head. Anyone remember the Nicholls St. game in 2008? UNC won 88-78 but allowed the Colonels to shoot 14-28 from three. Also that season UNC beat UNCA 91-83 with the Bulldogs shooting 53% for the game. For some reason there is this odd imbalance between the two ends of the floor where UNC is concerned. I know statistically it would not bear out but in anecdotal terms it sure seems that way.
At any rate, it reminded me of some games we have seen in the past where the offense could cook bacon but the defense leaves you scratching your head. That was certainly the case here but because the defense has been so good leading up to this one, I am less inclined to panic about it. It was just odd. Some credit goes to LBSU for being that hot shooting the ball and taking advantage of Tar Heel miscues. LBSU did a great job getting UNC players to bite on the drive and kick. They also used the Heels' aggressive shot blocking mentality against them by making the extra pass leading to an open basket on the opposite side. For UNC's part allowing LBSU to have an offensive rebounding rate of 30% and close to 80% on the defensive end means you are not doing a good job on the boards, especially on the weakside where the 49ers got multiple easy putbacks. This was not one of Tyler Zeller's better games in this regard and sometimes that happens. John Henson had nine rebounds but sat that final ten minutes with an injured thumb which was preventing him from catching the ball cleanly. Again, I am not going to panic because it was likely a focus issue more than anything else. We know this team can play defense because they have done so against better teams than LBSU.
Let's talk offense. After this site has been the home of griping, complaining, begging, pleading, arguments for this and that, suggestions and solutions as far as the eye can see, we finally are treated to a solid offensive effort. Most notable were the play of the back court in Larry Drew, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald coming off the bench plus a potential breakout game for Harrison Barnes. Starting with Barnes, it was the kind of game we have been expecting all along. Barnes finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds with a stretch in the 2nd half where the freshman took over a bit. During a four minute stretch midway through the 2nd half, Barnes scored 9 out of 11 Tar Heel points at a time when LBSU had rallied and was pushing UNC. Some of those shots were created by Barnes and as clutch as you could ask for.
As much as it was exciting to see Barnes step up his game, the work put in by Drew, Strickland and McDonald was probably more exciting. McDonald put on his best Wayne Ellington/Danny Freaking Green impersonation in the first half hitting five three pointers and a long two in the 2nd half to finish with 17. McDonald only ended up playing 16 minutes which may have been predicated on LBSU accounting for him on the defensive end and UNC needing to put its best defenders on the floor since the 49ers had turned into an offensive juggernaut after the break. Fortunately, taking out a player as hot as McDonald did not hurt since Strickland and Drew played so well. Strickland scored 13 points on 4-7 shooting, was 5-6 from the FT line, had three assists and one turnover. Aside from the production, Strickland was aggressive and if we can just get him to stop falling back when he shoots, he might score more.
The big game of the night came from Larry Drew who had 13 points, 8 assists and only two turnovers. Everyone liking that stat line? Feeling pretty good about Drew now? Consistency is the next step but some more play like that from Drew and this team might just come together nicely. Drew was clutch on multiple occasions in this one, including the savvy play to split a double team for an easy layup when UNC really needed an easy layup. It was the sort of take charge performance from the point guard slot UNC needs more often.
UNC has a week off before playing Texas in Greensboro. The time off will help John Henson get healthy and get the team past exams. The game versus Texas cannot be underscored enough. Another win over a ranked team will continue to bolster the confidence of this team. Granted there is a lot of season left but what we are seeing so far is a steady improvement. The defense looks capable and the offense is moving in the right direction. Consistency is the next step but at least we know good offense is possible from this team. Putting it all together in one game will be fun to watch.