Thad: Setting the tone
Red-hot Rashad McCants led the Tar Heels with 26 points, including 10 of 14 shooting from 3-point range. He became the first Tar Heel to score 25 points or more in three straight games since Joseph Forte accomplished the feat in 2001.
“[The FSU game] is still bothering me now; it’s hard to lose games, especially for me personally,” said McCants, who with this performance upped his scoring average to 18.8 points per game to move ahead of N.C. State’s Julius Hodge in the ACC scoring race.
UNC (12-4, 2-3 ACC), which hosts N.C. State on Wednesday, got back into the win column after a suspect start to league play, snapping Virginia’s (12-5, 2-4) two-game win streak.
The Tar Heels showed no signs of hangover following the trip to Tallahassee, jumping out to a 30-17 lead. But after blowing a 24-point lead down the stretch at Florida State, UNC coach Roy Williams didn’t take any chances with his team’s fatigue.
“I was looking for guys that wanted to sprint out,” Williams said. “We’re going to play a lot of people – for the stamina, yes; but overall we’re not going to take plays off. We just didn’t guard anybody. We would have one guy running one play, and one guy running another.”
Thirteen Tar Heels saw action in the first half – including sophomore center Damion Grant, who got his feet wet for the first time this season. Jesse Holley, Justin Bohlander and Reyshawn Terry all played in the opening period, however Virginia was able to whittle Carolina’s early lead to 42-40 by intermission.
The Cavaliers inside tandem of Elton Brown, Jason Clark and Donte Minter made the going tough for the Tar Heels near the basket, and less than three minutes into the second half, Virginia had its first and only lead at 49-48 on a breakaway dunk by Devin Smith.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know they took the lead,” David Noel said. “Coach Williams always pushes us to never look at the score; just play.”
But foul trouble mounted for the Cavaliers, with Clark and Minter both saddled with four personals with over 12 minutes remaining.
From that point on, the Tar Heels were outstanding, much to the delight of the 20,084 Smith Center faithful. After Raymond Felton found Manuel for a layup, drawing a foul on Gary Forbes in the process, the Tar Heels were up 73-58 at the 10:13 mark and the house was rocking.
“The crowd helps you on the defensive end of the floor,” Williams said.
Virginia became a one dimensional perimeter shooting team during UNC’s fast break scoring outburst. The Carolina defense held the Cavaliers to 7-of-23 shooting from beyond the arc in the second half.
“They turned up the defensive intensity in the second half,” Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. “We got frustrated and some fouls, but when things get a little bad, we’ve got to keep swinging.”
Sean May’s struggles shooting the ball continued, but despite missing eight field goal attempts, he still managed 17 points.
“I don’t think he’s lost his confidence; our guys think they invented basketball,” Roy Williams said. “But he’s not making as many shots as he would like. Sean puts a lot of spin on the ball which causes it to come out, but I’m not worried about Sean’s shooting.”
Jawad Williams, in what was likely his last game wearing a protective facemask, scored 14 points, giving him 999 points for his career. With his next basket, he will become the 54th UNC player in school history to surpass the 1,000-point mark.
Jackie Manuel, who is shooting 57.5-percent, was ever present around the rim and out ahead on fast breaks, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the second half. Manuel also pulled down seven rebounds, as the Tar Heels won the battle of the boards, 38-27.
The Tar Heels finished shooting 52.3-percent for the game, 63-percent in the second half – its third-highest percentage in a half this season.
“Our defense picked up and that forced some turnovers that got our break started,” Williams said. “Those good shooting percentages come from good passes.”
Those passes came in bunches as the Cavaliers quickly wore down. Felton, who leads the ACC and ranks third nationally with 8.0 assists per game, added eight more to his total, using his superior speed to keep the tempo at a torrid pace. In the meantime, McCants, Manuel, May and Noel were filling the lanes for easy baskets.
“They run great,” Gillen said. “Felton is jet-quick, and the other guys run with him because they know he’s going to get him the ball. They have unbelievably talented offensive players. We get a little flustered, and then they just turned it up and ran by us.”