While the Tar Heels' free throw defense didn't hold up at the AT&T Center – Providence shot 81.0 percent from the charity stripe (17-of-21) – they nearly rebounded half of their misses.
The result was a decided victory on the on the glass after being outrebounded in three of their previous four games. UNC not only grabbed more rebounds (40-26), but also secured a 21-9 edge in offensive boards, and more importantly, a 26-13 advantage in second-chance points.
UNC had allowed three of its previous five opponents to score 20 points or more on second-chance opportunities.
Despite allowing Providence to shoot 52.8 percent – a season-high by an opponent – UNC managed to increase its scoring opportunities with seven offensive rebounds in the final 4:57.
Marcus Paige's game-tying 3-pointer with 3:01 to play came courtesy of an offensive rebound, as did James Michael McAdoo's game-winning free throw with 3.5 seconds left. And, for good measure, UNC prevented any last-second heroics from Bryce Cotton (36 points) with McAdoo's offensive rebound of his own free throw miss with 1.7 seconds left and another one tick of the clock later.
This week's emphasis in practice corresponded with Roy Williams's hand-written note on the locker room wipe-off board: "Rebound, run and compete."
"It was just in practice Coach getting on us every day about getting to the glass and being able to get second chance points and not allowing the other team to get second chance points," Johnson told reporters following the 79-77 win. "That is the big thing he's been emphasizing the last couple days."
Seven different Tar Heels pulled down offensive rebounds, which is more than the number of players that Providence played. Five of McAdoo's 10 rebounds were offensive, as well as four of Johnson's eight.
"All of us got a couple of big offensive rebounds and we were able to convert on them," Johnson said. "We could have converted on them a little bit more, but we still hit the glass harder than we have been in the past couple of games."
As good as Marcus Paige (19 points) is on the perimeter and off the drive, UNC is at its best when utilizing its interior athleticism on the glass. The Tar Heels have scored 14 second-chance points or more in 15 games this season.
"The last two games we've been outscores 41 16, I think it is, on offensive rebounds," Williams said. "And tonight that was a 26 13 advantage for us."
The offensive boards will be equally as important on Sunday night against No. 3 seed Iowa State. The Cyclones have been effective on the defensive glass – 46th nationally in opponent offensive rebounding percentage, according to kenpom.com – but that was before losing forward Georges Niang (4.4 rpg) for the season on Friday night.