There’s always a concern for the type of game that Boston College presents. You’re making a quick road trip for a mid-afternoon start which throws off your rhythm in an odd place to play that is more neutral court than road court, you have a short turnaround to your next game, and you have a difficult stretch of competition coming up. In short it’s easy to just let this one slip by.
Again and again, though, this squad shows that the murderous non-conference schedule they went through at the start of the year is paying dividends now. The Tar Heels took the lead for good near the end of the first half, and despite some runs by the Eagles, Carolina pulled away in the end to secure yet another double-digit victory. So what did we learn of about this squad on Saturday?
This team is mentally tough
It seemed like the mentality question had been answered early in in the wins against Pitt and Clemson, as they were difficult and physical games. This UNC squad was handed a completely different task, though. The officiating was —l et’s say difficult — and several key contributors found themselves in foul trouble. Hubert Davis was forced to run a lineup at the end of the first half that included James Okonkwo and Harrison Ingram. Yet, by the end of that half the squad was up by three thanks to a beautiful lob by Elliot Cadeau to Okonkwo.
The spotty officiating continued into the second half, and yet the Tar Heels never relinquished their lead. Every time Boston College looked to be making a run — or the officials called a touch foul that allowed the the Eagles to shoot free throws — Carolina had an answer. The dagger came with less than four minutes left, as BC had snuck back to within four. Harrison Ingram hit a clutch three from in front of the UNC bench that drained all of the life out of the arena. BC would hit a couple more layups, but the feel of the game was different, and the Tar Heels locked down defensively to keep BC from hitting another field goal in the last three minutes.
The team has this feeling that they are not going to get bothered if things aren’t going their way, they’ll just figure it out. It’s fun to watch, and it’s something that’ll be sorely needed in March.
Key contributors are figuring out their place
Withers has been gradually getting more impactful minutes as the season has moved along. His play at the start of the season was inconsistent, and it was easy to figure why as he was expected to shoulder a huge load on a bad Louisville team, and it takes time both to adjust to a new role and to new teammates. Over time, though, he's clearly found a niche. He was our Player of the Game against Louisville, and he continued his great play on Saturday. His minutes in the first half were limited by fouls, but the second half saw him play ten minutes, score four points, sink both his free throws, and grab three boards plus dish an assist. In short, he’s a huge plus coming off the bench now and that does nothing but help as we get deeper into the season.
Also, Elliot Cadeau continues to see his confidence grow in multiple ways. The ridiculous passes he’s making to his teammates are connecting more, and his driving ability in the first half is what kept the Tar Heels in the game when it seemed like everyone else on offense just couldn’t find a bucket. That driving also led directly to the end of half dunk pass, as BC collapsed everyone on him and he just fed the perfect lob. His effort is directly rubbing off on RJ Davis, who once again took over on the floor during parts of the second half. It’s something you really enjoy seeing from both.
Hubert trusts his bench
A huge concern going into the season was just how little Hubert Davis had used his bench the last couple of seasons, pushing the minutes his starters would play and arguably wearing them out as the season wore along. There had been signs that this season was different as more players were contributing, but on Saturday he took the bench work to a different level.
He was forced to in a lot of ways because of the inordinate amount of fouls called. Armando Bacot, Withers, and Zayden High all took two fouls, and Jalen Washington was saddled with three. Yet no one ended up fouling out despite 26 fouls called on the Heels. This was because a total of 11 Tar Heels played minutes, eight of them scoring, and two players off the bench (Seth Tremble and Withers) going over double-digits in the minutes played. All of them finished with a positive +/- except Zayden High.
More importantly with a quick turnaround on Monday — only three players finished with more than 30 minutes played — Harrison Ingram, Davis, and Cormac Ryan. This sort of real game experience is important now and later, as you never know when a situation will happen where they will be called on. It also helps ensure the starters can steal rest in tough games. Rightly or wrongly, Davis trusts his bench a lot more than he did last year and it’s a huge reason the Tar Heels are off to their best league start in years.