A week away from live competition was a two-way street. Would the break reinforce the events of the past two weeks for a team that managed just 56.3 points a game in conference play? Or would that week break enable the Tar Heels to rediscover what enabled the best set of non-conference wins in the country earlier this season?
Roy Williams addressed his part of the equation with a shift in the starting lineup, but his players needed some confidence – a bright light, so to speak, amid a dark start to 2014. Having Boston College in the Smith Center on a crisp mid-January day fit the bill.
“It’s always good to be home but just a change in mindset,” James Michael McAdoo said of the win, “Zero-and-three. I’m not going to say our backs were against the wall or we were panicking but something had to change. We definitely tried to adapt and do what we know we are capable of doing and have done in the past.
“It’s definitely better than sitting at 0-3.”
For much of Saturday, another loss to a bottom tier conference team loomed possible. A quick start and early 10-point lead evaporated and while Boston College never managed to take the lead, the Eagles kept the Heels within a shooter’s distance most of the night.
It was a Kennedy Meeks offensive rebound and put back with 7:45 left that finally cleared the Tar Heels from danger. Just seconds before, a Brice Johnson dunk put Carolina ahead 61-57 and a Olivier Hanlan turnover put the Heels on the verge of taking control.
Leslie McDonald missed a jumper but Meeks tapped and then controlled the loose ball, scoring to put Heels up six and the game virtually in hand.
“I take a lot of pride in (getting those offensive rebounds),” Meeks said. “That’s what allows our team to push it to the next level.”
Meeks’s performance in the second half came after only two minutes of action in the first half – an adjustment Roy Williams made to combat Boston College’s big men on the perimeter. Needing an inside presence to help McAdoo, Williams gave Meeks 13 second half minutes – time the freshman took advantage of and time Meeks’s teammates definitely noticed in the grand scheme of the remaining season.
“We always need one of our bigs to step up and complement James Michael,” Marcus Paige said. “Today it was Kennedy. If he plays that hard all the time -- he was getting tip outs, getting to the loose balls. That’s the kind of effort we need from him. If we can get him to give that effort consistently, he’s going to really help us.“
“The first half I was discouraged because I didn’t play that much,” said Meeks. “My teammates said keep my head up and that’s what I did in the second half. I feel like I contributed but it was a team effort. “
A league win now in hand, North Carolina will continue to face the same challenges it’s dealt with all season. Winning helps, but is not a cure.
A team meeting following the loss to Syracuse cleared the air for some. A win against Boston College is one thing, but the road gets no easier for a team still looking up at the rest of the ACC.
“After Syracuse, we had a pretty legit talk between us as a team,” Meeks said, “Just finding out what we needed to do to make this season worth our while. That’s what we did. But we can’t be too content. We have to move on to Virginia and play better.”