It wasn't necessarily the cleanest game and some of the second half miscues surfaced again but the Tar Heels shutdown Boston College's Olivier Hanlan and got another solid game from Marcus Paige to put send the Eagles home 81-63.
The Tar Heels entered the game without center Kennedy Meeks who was out with some sort of mysterious ailment for which Roy Williams has not received a definitive answer. Joel James made his first start since the Tar Heels' November win over UCLA. James was effective in spots but also struggled with guarding the screens at the top of the key, Isaiah Hicks entered the game as UNC went back-and-forth a bit with the Eagles for 16-16 tie by the second media timeout. From there UNC asserted tenuous control of the game taking a 1-2 possession lead. A late half 8-1 burst put the Heels up 13 at the break.
The story of the first half was UNC's defensive effort. The Tar Heels held Boston College to just 8-23 shooting and 4-11 from three. The ACC's leading scorer, Olivier Hanlan was dogged by various Tar Heel defenders with J.P. Tokoto, Joel Berry and Marcus Paige holding the junior guard to 2-10 shooting and 0-2 from three. The Tar Heels got balanced scoring led by Brice Johnson with nine and Marcus Paige with eight points.
The early part of the second half was characterized by some sloppy play and empty possessions for UNC. Boston College apparently had no interest in exploiting UNC's erratic offensive play. The Tar Heels managed to keep the margin around double digits or just under. Boston College's best shot came around the second media timeout of the half when the Eagles had three shots, two from three while trailing by just eight points but none would drop. Eventually UNC pushed the lead back out to 14 before one last Eagles push cut it to 60-51 with 7:06 left. The Tar Heels closed the game on a 20-12 run for the final margin.
Hanlan did finish with 18 points(below his average), seven of those at the free throw line but was 5-19 and 1-5 from three. Given UNC's penchant of getting burned by scoring guards, this was a solid defensive performance.
The other story is Marcus Paige. The junior guard, who said he has been pain free since win at Georgia Tech last week, has looked completely healthy although he hesitated to say he was quite 100%. Paige scored 17 points and dished out nine assists versus four turnovers and grabbed six rebounds. He was 2-7 from three but 5-5 inside the arc. The two point shooting is key in evaluating Paige's effectiveness. If he can drive the lane, get to the basket to draw fouls or get easier looks, it makes him very dangerous as a player. It also creates openings for his teammates. Clearly his prior health issues have prevented him from getting that step he needs to get into the lane. If he is indeed past that, the Paige of last season might be emerging at just the right time for UNC.
Johnson also had 17 points and nine rebound. Justin Jackson hit a pair of threes on his was to 12 points. Nate Britt, Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks each scored 7 points. Berry, for his part, also showed some aggressiveness getting to the rim and drawing fouls.
Next up for the Tar Heels is Louisville on Thursday at 2:30 PM. UNC will likely be without Kennedy Meeks but the Cardinals no longer have guard Chris Jones. It should be as tightly contested a game as the previous two with UNC holding a slight home field advantage.