UNC flipped the script on Indiana in the first half hitting threes to build a lead as the Tar Heels rolled to a 101-86 win.
Hello, Mr. Paige!
If there was one underlying hope for UNC in the NCAA Tournament it was the Marcus Paige of old would show up again. That happened and it was a beautiful sight. Paige used the early part of the first half to remind us why it is that his jersey will wind up in the rafters when his career finally comes to a close. Paige hit his first three-point attempt, and then went on to hit is next three, en route to a scintillating 14-point, 4-assist 1st half. Paige would end the game with 21 points (6-9 from 3PA) and 6 assists, one of his most complete games of the season.
Paige's three point shooting sparked UNC to one of its best three point shooting games of the season. Coming into the game UNC had only made 10 or more threes in a game just once with season a 10-24 shooting effort versus Tulane in December. In the first half the Heels went 7-8 to establish the perimeter shooting. In the second half UNC cooled off to just 3-12 but the post play of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks carried the load from there. Speaking of Kennedy Meeks....
The first two games of the NCAA Tournament saw Kennedy Meeks relegated to little more than a bit player. Some of this was because of match-ups, but most of it was because Isaiah Hicks was far more effective. That script was entirely flipped tonight, as Hicks had one of his worst games of the season, spending barely enough time on the court to pick up five fouls. Fortunately for UNC, Meeks was willing and able to rise to the challenge, authoring perhaps his best game since scoring 23 points against the Wolfpack on mid-January. Meeks scored 15 points to go with 9 rebounds and did an excellent job playing defense on Indiana's lone inside threat, Thomas Bryant. And while Brice Johnson may have ended with the better overall line, it was Meeks who was UNC's best big during the first half, when the game was still clearly in doubt.
Much like Paige, Meeks hasn't had anywhere close to the season he and anyone else thought he would have. Questions regarding his toughness, health and overall skill level have been rampant with just a few games like 23 points versus NC State or 14 rebounds versus Duke to quell some of those concerns. After a string of rough outings and ESPN's Jay Williams calling for Isaiah Hicks to start, Meeks responded with a solid game at Duke while Hicks struggled. In the Sweet Sixteen, Meeks again stepped up while Hicks barely played thanks to foul trouble. The next step is Meeks putting together a string of solid games. If he can do that again Sunday, UNC could be headed for Houston.
Credit for that phrase goes here.
On Sunday two regional final games will be played and they will all include ACC teams. In the first game #1 seed Virginia will face #10 seeded Syracuse to determine the champion from the Midwest Region. UNC will follow with a third game this season versus #6 seed Notre Dame. With all four ACC teams on one side of the bracket it ensure the league will occupy half the of the Final Four and be represented in the NCAA title game for a second straight season.
As for UNC facing Notre Dame a third time, Carolina has essentially dominated three of the four halves against the Irish this season. UNC led by as much as 15 in the first half at South Bend and nine at the break but lost the second half by 13 and the game by four. Two weeks ago in the ACC Tournament it was all UNC with the Tar Heels limiting Notre Dame to an offensive efficiency of 68.6, just 47 points on the way to a 31 point win.
There is little doubt Notre Dame remembers that and the Irish have a little team of destiny vibe going right now having pulled out three close games in almost miraculous fashion. UNC has won three straight games by at least 15 points. If the versions of UNC that has shown up so far in Philly is on the court Sunday, the Irish luck could run out.