The game was tight for much of the first half but in the second half UNC exerted control and got the win. Here are storylines.
Early in the game it felt like UNC was moving away from what has been this team's strength all season. In the first five halfcourt possessions, UNC took a trio of threes, had a turnover and got it into the post. The one possession with a post touch was the only one of those five that produced points. That was an early sign of what UNC needed to do and eventually the Tar Heels settled into that. Once that happened, there was little Providence could do to slow the Tar Heels down, especially as the foul trouble mounted.
By game's end UNC had attempted just 25% of its shots from beyond the arc. The rest of it came on two point shots where the Tar Heels shot 60%. In terms of points in the paint, UNC outscored the Friars 46-18 on the interior and controlled the boards to the tune of a 42-24 edge in rebounds. That resulted in an offensive rebounding rate of 46.4% and a 16-1 advantage in second half points.
In addition to making shots in the post, UNC turned fouls into points. A byproduct of pounding the ball inside is getting the opposing team in foul trouble and gaining opportunities at the free throw line. The Tar Heels hit 19-of-21 free throws with 18-of-19 makes coming prior to the final minute. Johnson was 7-7 at the line including a stretch of six straight makes that factored in to UNC extending the lead to 15 points in the second half.
UNC did what it did best and it resulted in a dominant second half on the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
Defense does it again
Roy Williams said in the postgame press conference that one of the three items he put on the whiteboard was to make the defense a factor. While it wasn't a total game effort, the defense was the key to UNC pulling away in the second half. In the first half with Kris Dunn out of the game, UNC missed a chance to build a lead and the defense appeared to struggle a bit even with the Friars' best player on the bench. Dunn had scored 10 first half points but the defense ended up being a mixed bag even with Dunn out. The Tar Heels kept Providence under 40% shooting in the first half but the Friars' overall efficiency was over 100.
The second half opened in a less than ideal fashion for UNC on the defensive end. Over the opening 4:29, Kris Dunn scored six of Providence's 11 points for a 41-41 tie. When the half opened, Roy Williams opted to play Justin Jackson on Dunn instead of Marcus Paige who had picked up two first half fouls. Following the early six point flurry ending with a dunk at the 15:31 mark, Dunn would not score again until the 6:08 mark when a single free throw cut into UNC's 17 point lead.
Dunn still ended up with 29 points but ten of those came in the first half and six more in the early portion of the second half. The rest came one the game was well in hand. During the critical nine minute juncture when the game was ultimately decided, Dunn was held scoreless as UNC built an insurmountable lead. Jackson's defense was a key factor in getting Providence's best player out of sync and effectively derailing the Friar offense long enough to seize control of the game.
Next stop on the revenge tour
First order of business in the wake of UNC moving to the Sweet Sixteen is the fact the Tar Heels won't be facing Kentucky. That's right, the Kentucky team that ESPN's Jeff Goodman picked to win it all or Dick Vitale put in the Final Four at UNC's expense or who Fox Sports Stewart Mandel asserted would have an "easy win" over the Tar Heels in Philladelphia. Not so much as the Wildcats failed to move past Indiana sending the Hoosiers into the Sweet Sixteen to face UNC.
This now opens the door for Roy Williams to take up some unfinished Carolina family business leftover from the Dean Smith era. In 1981, UNC lost to Indiana in the NCAA title game in Philadelphia. Three years later, Indiana again denied a two loss Tar Heel team that had Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty a shot at a title with a Sweet Sixteen win over UNC. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich was on that team is more than happy to let you know what role he played in knocking off the top rated Tar Heels that year. There is also the matter of UNC losing 90-58 in Bloomington in the 2013 season when Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James were freshman.
Give Roy Williams was an assistant under Dean Smith for the two early 80s losses and Williams endured the 2013 beatdown, it is possible these games have come to mind. The players are unlikely to be motivated by losses that happened over 30 years ago. However Paige and Johnson were on hand for the loss in 2013 and undoubtedly would like a bit of payback much the same way the 2009 team got payback on Gonzaga for a loss two years prior involving the same core group.
UNC has made a habit of getting revenge on teams who handed the Tar Heels losses. Could Indiana be next it line for a little Tar Heels revenge?