After fast starts in their two previous wins, the Tar Heels reversed course and had to battle out of a 19-10 deficit against the Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion. UNC clamped down defensively and capitalized on 17 turnovers to dismantle its opponent with a 47-22 run overlapping halftime.
UNC has benefitted from a favorable schedule to turn its conference season around – its last five opponents are a combined 21-29 in the ACC – but the competition level is more of a notation than an explanation.
While the Tar Heels have struggled to put together a dominant 40-minute performance since its double-digit victory at then-No. 1 Michigan State two months ago, they now understand that wins and losses are not finalized until the final horn sounds.
"It's the realization that If we want to be great and do all of these things, we've got to win," McAdoo said. "It's kind of cliché, but at the end of the day, no matter what we do in practice, we've got 40 minutes to go out and prove that we're better than the other team. It doesn't matter if we're at home or away."
Inconsistency defined UNC's play in November and December. Dramatic wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky were interspersed with devastating losses to UAB, Belmont and Texas. What's defined the Tar Heels during their current winning streak is an ability to maintain their sense of urgency and play as a complete unit.
"I think we're much more consistent now and I think the kids are much more confident now and believe in what we're doing," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters following his team's 73-62 win.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige agreed with his head coach.
"Obviously, there were a couple of times at the beginning of the year where we were just playing fantastic," Paige said. "I don't think we've hit that level on a consistent basis; we're a little under that level, but more consistently playing at the [current] level. But we're getting there. We're still making strides, still taking steps forward."
The Blue Devils will provide their usual test at the Smith Center on Wednesday, followed by a home game against No. 25 Pittsburgh on Saturday and a trip to Florida State on Monday. Three critical ACC contests over a six-day stretch.
"You know but we've got some big time games left," Williams said. "I can't remember who it is we play next but we've got some big time games."