Strong defensive play continues for UNC in Sunday win over Georgia Tech
For UNC, the Hubert Davis era could have started better. Especially on the defensive side.
The North Carolina men’s basketball team lost two of three games they played against top 25 teams to start the season. The Tar Heels have allowed their opponents to score over 80 points in four of their first five games, including a particularly lousy performance in a win over Brown.
And, for now, UNC is unranked in December for a third consecutive year.
But think about the market trend in Tar Heels this time around over the past two seasons, and think about its current direction. A strange dominant performance against a tournament prospect – say, the Tar Heels’ victory over Michigan’s No.24 on Wednesday – has occurred on occasion over the previous two seasons (see: 99-54 triumph of the last year against Louisville.)
But two in a row? Well, that just didn’t happen. But on Sunday, UNC showed signs that the trend of inconsistency may be coming to an end, as the Tar Heels host a second-half clinic in Atlanta, beating ACC foe Georgia Tech, 79-62.
âOn Wednesday we played really well,â said Davis. “But it didn’t mean anything if we didn’t show up and play well again today.”
Much of UNC’s improvement over the last two games can be attributed to the defensive end of the field.
The Yellow Jackets came on Sunday scoring more than 74 points per game, and the Tar Heels held them to just 62, the second-lowest total of the season for Georgia Tech. Wednesday’s game against Michigan was a similar story, as UNC kept the Wolverines at a season low of 51.
Looking at the Tar Heels now, it’s hard to imagine this was a team that helped Brown and the College of Charleston score 170 combined points against them in two games less than a month ago.
âWe weren’t active at the start of the season,â said second-year guard Caleb Love. “But these last two games we’ve just been blocked. Playing active spreads, getting interceptions, helping the assistant.”
Georgia Tech senior Michael Devoe entered Sunday’s game as college basketball’s top scorer – averaging 25 points per game. The Tar Heels – namely Devoe’s main defenseman Leaky Black – kept the senior at 15 points, his second weakest result of the season.
While UNC didn’t keep Georgia Tech in the game the entire game, even as the Yellow Jackets drove 13-0 and knocked down 62.5% of their first three halves, North Carolina has kept pace, entering tied at 31 at halftime.
And in the second half, after the Tar Heels made the necessary defensive adjustments, the attack didn’t slow down a bit – pulling away easily as Georgia Tech’s shooting clips regressed to average.
âI think (the Tar Heels) are really good,â said Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner. âI said it several times on ACC Media Day. When we were there I said, âThere aren’t enough people to talk about North Carolina this year. “
The possibility that a blue blood program like North Carolina may go unnoticed can be hard to fathom, but after the past two years, it shouldn’t be all that surprising.
The Tar Heels have not been consistent and have rarely beaten good teams. But on Sunday, they ticked both boxes: clinching a second straight win against a hopeful team for the tournament and winning with relative ease.
â(Davis) loves the game, he goes all out in this game,â Love said. “He does a lot for us, so we just want to give that back to him, to show our appreciation for him through our game.”
Now the hard part comes. The Tar Heels need to stay consistent. With the season still less than a month old, UNC is expected to play just three more games against teams currently in the top 25: twice against No.1 Duke and once against No.5 UCLA. The KenPom rankings only have the Blue Devils ranked ahead of North Carolina in the ACC.
But for the Tar Heels to take advantage of what appears to be another year of “down” in the ACC and play deeper into March, they’ll need to keep doing what they did on Sunday and throughout the last week, in s ‘improving steadily until they are impossible to ignore.
So think again, with an ever-improving team with the potential to climb even higher, could the Davis era really have started better?
âA lot of people came in after Wednesday’s game and said, ‘It was Carolina basketball. It was a Carolina win, âsaid Davis. âAnd I told them Carolina basketball shows up on Sunday, every time you step out on the floor.
To receive the news and headlines of the day in your inbox every morning, subscribe to our email newsletters.