USA TODAY Sports
Vengeance is the retreat of the desperate. Which is why it feels so good that Saturday's win felt so good for all the right reasons--not because we got one back on State, but because we got one up on them.
Not that the No. 26 RPI team should have to worry much about snagging one of 37 at-large bids (should, that is), but we were on the bubble nonetheless--and on the verge of slipping permanently out of a Thursday bye in the ACC tournament, which would only complicate our national tournament picture.
Thanks to Saturday afternoon, we are no longer so desperate.
Of course, it's yet to be seen whether that's an advantage or a disadvantage for a Heels team that seems to play its best ball with its back against the wall. Even on Saturday, it took dropping a 10-point second half lead in two minutes and Roy benching everybody for the apocalypse lineup of Davis-Paige-Tokoto-Simmons-Hubert with 13:25 left for us to understand that we were the better team last night and should probably start playing like it.
No sooner were the words "Who's gonna score here?" spoken than Marcus Paige dropped his first three of the night. Paige would be the answer the rest of the way, finishing with 14 points, 3 boards, 3 steals, and 8 assists to 0 turnovers, confidently clearing out on Scott Wood at crucial points, and fortunately taking the lion's share (4-for-5) of our free throws.
We're still a team that has to hit the three-ball to win, however, and it was only due to State's 12 first-half turnovers, poor foul-shooting (2-for-6), and 40.0 FG% that we were up 34-28 at the break after going only 4-for-12 from behind the arc.
Bullock took care of that in the second half, hitting three huge threes (and two free throws) in a four minute span to give the Heels their second double-digit lead of the game with 4:02 to play--one they wouldn't give up the second time around. Bullock finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, stealing most of Richard Howell's 13 and 17 thunder.
For its muted presence, the bigger story of the night was C. J. Leslie being held to as many points as turnovers (6) and almost as many fouls (3) as rebounds (4). P. J. Hairston is showing everyone outside of Chapel Hill that he's much more than a shooter and scorer (which he also did, finishing with 12 points on 2-for-4 from three).
The question now is what the Heels will do after people have stopped questioning them. We stand at third in the ACC, facing @Clemson, FSU, @Maryland, and Duke. Our destiny, it appears, is in our own hands. We can only hope our days of digging our own holes are behind us.
But, if not, at least we have a lot of experience climbing out of them.