There were two ways this game could have gone for UNC in the wake of the crushing loss at Duke on Wednesday night. An emotionally spent Tar Heel team could have stumbled and struggled against a lower tier ACC team or the Tar Heels could dish out 40 minutes worth of frustration and anger on the Yellow Jackets.
It was the latter and then some. Six Tar Heels scored in double figures and Marcus Paige scored 13 points and dished out 10 assists and had zero turnovers as the Tar Heels rolled over Georgia Tech 89-60.
Because of the way the schedule worked, UNC had not been at home since the passing of Dean Smith. That has caused the emotional process involved with his loss to be somewhat elongated. This game began with a moment of silence to honor Dean Smith and on UNC's first possession Marcus Paige showed four fingers signaling the Tar Heels to run the Four Corners offense. After a few seconds Paige drove to the free throw line, ball faked to force the defense to react then hit Brice Johnson for a backdoor layup. It was a incredible moment and set the one for what would be a dominant UNC performance.
The Heels took an early 11-3 lead and then 21-11. Following a Georgia Tech timeout, the Jackets hit back-to-back threes to draw to within four points. That was as close as Georgia Tech would get as the Heels ratcheted up the defensive intensity and reeled off a 22-12 run to take a 13 point lead into the break. Georgia Tech closed the half missing 9 of its final 10 shots.
One knock on UNC this season has been the inability to piece together 40 minutes of great play. Going into the second half, a letdown would not have been a surprise given the way games have gone for the Tar Heels this season. That wasn't the case today. The Tar Heels took immediate control in the second half going on a 30-8 run to take a 72-37 lead with 11:29 left. UNC eviscerated the Yellow Jacket defense, getting practically anything it wanted on the offensive end. On defense, UNC maintained its intensity level on forcing nine second half turnovers by the Yellow Jackets.
Kennedy Meeks led UNC with 18 points and six rebounds on 8-13 shooting. Brice Johnson was 7-10 for 16 points and five boards. Justin Jackson snapped out of his slump to score 12 points including a made three pointer. J.P. Tokoto and Isaiah Hicks had 12 apiece. It was Paige who played perhaps his best game in quite some time. The junior guard had struggled in the month of February but found his shot going 3-5 from three on the way to 13 points. His 10 assists vs zero turnovers was the first double digit assists game without a miscue since Kendall Marshall did it exactly three years ago today versus NC State.
Despite the losses at Pittsburgh and Duke, UNC has been very good on the offensive end for three straight games. The defense was an obvious issue last Saturday and for the first half against Duke but over the court of the last three halves, the Tar Heels have been much better on the defensive end. Georgia Tech's 88.7 offensive efficiency marked the first time in a month and since Theo Pinson went out with a broken foot the Tar Heels have held an opponent under 100. The Tar Heels' 131.6 offensive efficiency is the third highest of the season and came against a team that, prior to the game, was ranked in the top 30 in defensive efficiency. UNC's eFG% of 66.4 was a season high.
The Tar Heels will face NC State on Tuesday and after Roy Williams' pointed comments about the crowd, the atmosphere will be interesting to say the least.