As the season approached, with the heavyweights that UNC would face in their non-conference schedule and with two players, including the one that could be the best one, out for some of the season, having two losses would not have surprised me at all. The only thing is… I would have never thought that the Heels would have lost to Belmont and UAB. I also never would have guessed that North Carolina (5-2) would have first defeated #3 Louisville, and then last night top ranked Michigan State (6-1) by the final of 79 to 65.
The Tar Heels are now 7-0 against the Spartans under head coach Roy Williams. On the other side, this is the Spartans’ first loss to an unranked team at home since January 2011, snapping a 35-game streak.
And for all of those fans out there who always want to criticize the Tar Heels’ head man, Carolina won the game without ever having a need to call a timeout!
Coming off a game against UAB where coach Williams’ squad was out-hustled in ever facet of the game it did the same to the Spartans last night. Where every single 50-50 ball was UNC’s, where the for most of the game MSU’s offensive sets meant one shot and done. Where you heard praise after praise by the ESPN announcers for most of the game.
UNC went out to a double digit leads as Michigan St. looked out of place and just not ready to play for the first six to eight minutes. However, as most Tom Izzo’s team do, the Spartans fought back and thanks to a 18 to 6 run late in the half the two teams went into intermission tied up at 32 a piece.
And while the game ended in a double digit win, a chunk of the second twenty minutes were fought with North Carolina being ahead by one or two baskets, where any slip by coach Williams’ team would have given the lead to the opposition. The lead moved to about 9-10-11 points with less than ten minutes to go, and each time that the Spartans would stop the Heels on the offensive side and go down for a chance to score everyone would think “is this the MSU run we been waiting for?” However on the next possession UNC would get a score and bring back up the lead, and in the end the run that everyone in the Breslin Center were waiting for never came.
In other words… in this game the Heels answered each and every call that came their way!
The team was up to every challenge that Michigan State gave them!
Most of all no one on the Carolina squad was a liability, be it on the offensive side, on the free throw line or on defense.
And, unlike the Louisville win where Marcus Paige exploded, this was a total team effort on the offensive side. With five Tar Heels scoring in double digits. Paige only having 2 of the 32 first half points showed how much this team played as one last night.
The two players that had their best games of the season were freshman point guard Nate Britt and sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto. Britt has made plenty errors during the young season, but in this one did all that he could do keep the team running, and while he was not perfect, he had his best game donning the carolina blue. The first year player scored 13 points, including a 7 for 8 night from the charity stripe, to go with three assists and six rebounds. On the other hand Tokoto gets a double double with 12 points and a career and game high 10 rebounds. But most of all he did not take shots that were not “within him”, meaning that he did not force the game, but let the game come to him.
The other three getting double digit scoring were Paige, with 13 and 5 assists, sophomore forward Brice Johnson, 14 points, and leading all Heels freshman Kennedy Meeks, 15 points and seven rebounds. In all seven players had 18 or more minutes, with other four players getting anywhere from six to eight minutes. Thanks mostly to Johnson and Meeks UNC’s bench outscored MSU’s 31 to 17, and that too helped the Heels win the game last night.
I guess if we need to find a team negative, the squad only hit 2 out of 11 shots beyond the three point line. But, then again, a lot of teams from Chapel Hill have never shot well from the trifecta. While as an individual, he did have a couple of good shots and played better than the last couple of games, James McAdoo needs to show what he can be… a leader for this team.
Let’s face the fact here, whomever states they know this team is fibbing. Within 17 days North Carolina lost at home to Belmont by three, upset #3 Louisville by nine, lost to UAB on the road by four and then knocked off the top team in the nation.
The squad has gone from playing a lackadaisical game vs Belmont to a sharp one against Louisville. Then playing a game where the opposing team did all better than UNC against UAB to doing every better than the opposition at MSU. In other words in just a bit of more than two weeks the squad has done night and day not once, but twice.
UNC is the first team to beat the AP No. 1 team AND the defending national champion in non conference regular season games in the same season since UCLA in 1986-87. Interesting enough UCLA beat Louisville (defending champ) and UNC that season. And Carolina’s head coach has the most ever wins against top rated squads with seven.
Now North Carolina will be waiting for UNCG at the Dean Dome before having to take on another power house in Kentucky. As the team prepares itself most everyone could think that the next two games could go 1 and 1, but the key question would have to be… which one is the win and which one is not!