Four games in eight days. An 11-point second-half rally against the archrival Blue Devils that cleared the stands and flooded the court. And a standout combo guard in Marcus Paige that had logged 112 of a possible 120 minutes over the previous seven days.
It helped, of course, that Wake Forest appears to already be packing head coach Jeff Bzdelik’s bags for a one-way flight out of Winston-Salem. Even so, the Tar Heels summoned enough energy and intensity to dismiss the Demon Deacons, 105-72, to claim their ninth-straight win and move into third place in the ACC standings.
“We understood that we maybe had a chance to get a day or two of rest to get our bodies back together after this game, but we had to complete the streak,” Paige told reporters following UNC's win. “Coach always said, ‘it’s not special to go four games in eight days unless you win all four of them.’ So that was our goal.”
Friday afternoon’s practice was light, running only 45 minutes, according to Roy Williams.
“We actually only were active doing things for about 45 minutes in practice, but the whole thing was just talking to them,” the 11th-year head coach said during his postgame press conference. “I said, ‘Guys, it’s what it is. It’s our schedule; we’ve got to play it. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to feel good about playing four games in eight days.’”
Saturday morning, complete with breakfast and a team meeting, came early for the Tar Heels. Paige acknowledged that he and several of his teammates were “sluggish and tired” ahead of Saturday’s tip.
“It’s been a toll on our bodies,” said senior guard Leslie McDonald, who led UNC with 19 points.
One added bit of motivation played a role, according to James Michael McAdoo. The Demon Deacons handed UNC its first loss of the ACC season on Jan. 5. The Tar Heels plotted revenge, although in reality, these two programs have been on divergent paths over the last month.
Wake Forest has now lost seven in a row. UNC’s nine-game winning streak matches its longest since winning 10 in a row during its 2008-09 national championship run.
UNC grabbed control with a 19-3 run midway through the first half, took a 52-33 lead into the break and extended its lead to 29 points with 10:38 to play.
The Tar Heels set season-highs in points (105), 3-point field goal percentage (73.3) and free throw percentage (82.8). UNC’s 57.4 field goal percentage on 35-of-61 shooting its highest mark since shooting 60 percent in the season opener against Oakland.
In a season that’s been a constantly-moving target in terms of labels, UNC’s 73.3 3-point field goal percentage is a school record in a game with a minimum of 10 makes. This from a team averaging 3.8 made 3-pointers per game on the season.
The Tar Heels have lingered on the outer fringe of the AP Poll in recent weeks, but there’s little doubt they will land feet first in the teens when the new rankings are released on Monday. The players, however, dismissed such polls as subjective in the postgame locker room.
“We have bigger goals and aspirations than being ranked,” Paige said. “We’ve won a bunch of games in a row and put ourselves in position to get a bye in the ACC Tournament. Those are the kinds of things we’re looking at. What can help us improve as a team?
"Can we get a two-seed or a three-seed? Can we keep climbing in the rankings and can we set ourselves up well for postseason play?”
Based on UNC’s play over its last nine games, especially during this four-games-in-eight-days stretch, the answers to those questions is a resounding yes.