Despite some sloppiness with the ball, UNC found a way to use soul-crushing offensive ability to make the #4 team in the nation play from behind for nearly the entire game. Cameron Johnson was absolutely on fire from distance to help propel the Tar Heels to victory.
As one would expect for a Saturday night against a top 5 team in the Dean Dome, the atmosphere in Chapel Hill felt every bit like the biggest game the Tar Heels have played all season. The crowd did their part, start to finish, and the team more than rose to the occasion against a very good Gonzaga team.
The Bulldogs are a very good team that was completely deserving of their #1 ranking not very long ago, which makes how somewhat alarmingly ordinary UNC made them look Saturday night even more impressive. The Heels had double digit leads for a large chunk of the game and never really felt in danger of losing control, even with 23 turnovers.
Johnson was a living, breathing heat check from beyond the arc tonight, making six of his eight shots from three. He led all scorers with 25 points, turning in his most impressive performance in light blue to date. Luke Maye finished just behind Johnson with 20 points of his own, as well as 16 rebounds. He surpassed the 1000-point mark for his career. In all, the Heels made 13 of their 25 three-point attempts, recovering from an 0-5 mark to start the game. Seventh Woods also had a tremendous game off the bench with 14 points. He was instrumental in working through the zone defense Gonzaga threw at them.
Turnovers were an issue for both teams, but it was far worse for Carolina. UNC turned the ball over 23 times, leading directly to 29 points for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga might have been completely run out of the building if Carolina had been able to take care of the ball better.
Both teams came into the game putting up well over 90 points per game and neither team playing particularly well defensively. That held pretty true in this game as well. There was a degree of sloppiness that you don’t often get away with against teams as good as Gonzaga, so it’s a testament to how scary good UNC’s offense is that they were able to overcome all that and still win handily.
To Carolina’s credit, they were able to keep Rui Hachimura from going off on them. It’s a storyline we’ve seen time and time again, and he came into the game with all the fanfare in the world. UNC was able to hold him to 17 points (under his season average of 22 ppg) and seven rebounds in 35 minutes on the floor. It’s good to see that outcome every once in a while, compared to how it seems to go more often than we’d like.
UNC has a very difficult non-conference schedule this year, and beating a team like Gonzaga before Christmas feels really good. They’ll get another week to practice before taking on another good team in Kentucky in Chicago next weekend.