Not only were they able to piece together two consecutive halves of pretty good basketball, but despite a largely unimpressive box score, I can't think of a single Tar Heel who had a particularly bad game last night--and we had 9 of them in there for ten minutes or more.
McAdoo was right at his averages with 14 and 9, but continued to show a territorial ferocity rebounding the ball that has only come out in the last couple of games. Hubert did everything we can ask of him from a defensive standpoint, notching 5 blocks, 1 steal, and 6 boards (5 defensive) in 22 minutes. James continued to exhibit his good hands, soft touch, and workmanlike attitude, going 2-for-3 from the field, tallying 2 blocks and a steal of his own, and providing a big body to match Tech's Robert Carter, Jr. Johnson didn't have the offensive burst we've come to expect from him, but was more of a defensive presense this game, blocking only one shot, but altering many others and grabbing 5 boards in 13 minutes of play.
While Bullock had a relative off-night from deep (2-for-7), he hit all five of his shots inside the arc, scored a team high 17 points, and coralled 6 rebounds, including a tough offensive board that resulted in three points the old-fashioned way. Where Bullock lapsed from deep, Hairston was there to pick up his slack, going 3-for-6 from three, scoring 15 points, assuming the difficult defensive assignment of Chris Bolden at times, and serving up an absolute facial to the best shot-blocker in the league:
Tokoto put in solid work (8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) re-stealing his own turnovers, thunderously putting back his own misses, and hitting a big jumper at the end of the half to push the lead to 8. Strickland did enough (converted on the fast break, drew the tough defensive assignments, finished with 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals), but more importantly, he didn't try to do too much. Paige was 1-for-6 from the field (1-for-2 from three), but I'd like to meet the person who still thinks this guy should not be our starting point guard. He looked comfortable, in the flow, setting up his teammates (6 assists), and making smart decisions for the vast majority of the game (except for a 22-second hiccup with a 13-point lead early in the second half that resulted in 2 turnovers and a benching).
Jackson Simmons even showed up again with another perfect night shooting (2-for-2 FG, 2-for-2 FT) and flawless decision-making, despite the fact that the 6' 7" 220-lb (really, 220?) sophomore was asked to cover (and was covered by) 6' 11" 257-lb Daniel Miller and the bestial 6' 8" 245-lb (really, 245?) load of Robert Carter, Jr.
The only real lapse came during a six-minute stretch late in the first half (which was really two smaller lapses back-to-back), when Tech cut a 13-point lead to 4 with two minutes to play. But we were able to regroup and push it back to a three-possession lead at the half that would never again get below double-digits after Bullock's three-point play to open up the second half.
All in all, it was a very solid effort, which is probably the most encouraging sign any Heels fan could have hoped for, given the erratic performance of a very green team to this point. Things finally seem to be stabilizing, even approaching the realm of reliability in some aspects.
I still expect the proverbial wheels to fall off a couple more times this season (part of me expected them to fall off last night), but right now Roy seems to have a pretty good handle on keeping his team's concentration where it needs to be.
The real test will come Saturday against a State team coming off a very disappointing loss to Wake and 13 straight losses to the Heels. "Vengeance" seems to be the appropriate tone there. Whether or not they win, if the Heels can hold their own and maintain the consistent effort they showed against Tech, I'll consider it a victory of sorts. My eyes will be on Paige, as Lo Brown will test him more than any other point guard has this year.
I just hope Karl Hess is working.