UNC throttled Miami by 25 in a game that saw the Tar Heels up by much more throughout the second half. Here is what we learned.
"Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket"
Every member of the media had this quote pegged before the game was even over and sure enough Roy Williams led with it as he did after Sunday's win over Pitt. It also puts the loss to Duke in the correct perspective. While UNC's loss to Duke was discussed in terms of not getting the ball to Brice Johnson or not calling timeout, the real issue was not hitting shots. UNC did that today and last Sunday resulting in huge wins. It didn't happen versus Duke leading to a narrow loss.
Needless to say UNC was locked in offensively. The Tar Heels went 9-20 from three and ended up shooting 54.2% overall for the game. In the second half the Tar Heels were 6-13 from three with those shots essentially breaking Miami's back as a nine point halftime lead ballooned to as much as 38 points with 6:45 left in the contest.
It should be noted this kind of offensive performance came at the expense of a team that, on paper, was solid on the defensive end. Miami's defensive efficiency was 94.4 entering the game and 20th nationally. In ACC play opposing teams were shooting just 42.2% versus the Hurricanes and 31.9% from three. Both of those were fourth best in the ACC along with Miami's defensive efficiency at just under 100. UNC laid waste to it and did what an angry team does in the wake of a brutal loss: win big.
Justin Jackson has arrived?
After hearing for weeks about his own slump and even taking some vitriol from the fans on Twitter, Justin Jackson has found a groove over the past four games and in five of the last six. In the loss to Louisville, Jackson broke a string of four straight single digit games with 16 points on 6-7 shooting. After a five point outing versus Notre Dame, Jackson lost his starting job for one game versus Boston College.
That lineup changed lit a fire under Jackson who scored 20 to save UNC versus the Eagles and in four striaght games has scored at least 13 points. His three point shooting, which had been a mystery, finally found the mark. Jackson has hit multiple threes in three of the last four games and versus Miami hit three from beyond the arc for the first time since last season. The four game snapshot for Jackson looks like this:
15.5 ppg, 7-12 from three, 62% from the floor and 4.8 assists per game.
These four games are the Justin Jackson UNC needs to make a deep tournament run and it appears he has picked the right time of the season to finally show up.
You could argue UNC has turned the corner though it is impossible to know that until later. It is also difficult to really believe that given how much this team is given to inconsistency. Ultimately whether this week was the point in the season UNC decided to play up to expectations will be easier to answer a week from now after UNC has played twice on the road versus improving NC State and defensive stalwart Virginia.
Simply taking the three games this week, one of them looks nothing like the other two and not because it is a loss. In wins over PItt and Miami, UNC got significant perimeter scoring to compliment Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks in the post. UNC dominated the offensive glass versus both Duke and Miami but in only one of those games did the shots fall from outside. Not surprisingly there were two different results.
Given what UNC looked like in the book end games around the Duke loss, Doc might be on the mark when he suggested what happened Wednesday night was rivalry weirdness and nothing more. Granted it was still a game UNC should have won but it is also possible it was a complete fluke.
UNC entered the game today with many, many questions. Would the offense finally get on track? Would the team check out and go into a tailspin? This game was seen as a gut check, find out of this team can reach its potential sort of contest. It felt like a must win because the opposite would have left UNC in a world of hurt in the ACC standings and confirming the worst fears about this team.
The Tar Heels answered the bell on Saturday and in two of the three games this week, UNC looked the part of Final Four contender. To really put the Duke loss behind them the Tar Heels need to be what they today for the rest of the season on both ends of the floor.