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It was a solid but unspectacular effort from Carolina, but the Heels just keep winning.
If you didn't manage to catch this performance by the Heels, you didn't miss much: pretty much says everything that the headlines for this game revolved around Carolina extending its streak of 20-win seasons. But in a game against a solid defensive team with enough inside presence to potentially bother Carolina, that's absolutely fine with me. One of the most encouraging things about UNC now is that they have veered away, for the most part, from the kind of wild flux of in-game performance that plagued them through the beginning of the season. Yes, they played a much better game in the first half than the second, but they didn't play particularly awful in the second half, and never made me think they were going to lose this game at any point (though the poor free throw shooting down the stretch does raise some eyebrows). That's exactly what I wanted to see from this team as they continue to grow: I don't necessarily need to see them blow out an inferior team by 20 to believe they are getting better and better. They're just not letting things get off the rails anymore.
There were no highlight-reel plays, no screaming and chest-bumping, just a slow, methodical picking apart of a Tigers team that came out shooting hot but just couldn't keep up. Every starter for Carolina scored in double figures, but none managed more than Dexter Strickland's 16, which was a combination of everyone sharing the ball well (positive!) and no one being able to really put the game out of reach for UNC (not so positive!), but if what I'm getting from the Heels' offense is trading in peaks and valleys for peaks and plateaus, that's great.
Marcus Paige continues to impress, looking like he's got a little pep in his step and especially looking like he's got more confidence in his jumper. P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo continue to do their share of both good things and awful things, sometimes in consecutive possessions, but we've all come to expect that by now. Reggie Bullock impressed for stretches at a time and then could be virtually forgotten about at others. This is the team we have, and these complaints are really just small quibbles rather than the full-blown frustrations that they were at the beginning of the year.
Most of all, amidst cutting down on the mistakes and finding their groove with the smallball offense, Carolina is looking more and more like a real team. They had 19 FGs on 26 made baskets last night and nobody is really dropping their head or sulking about their role (from our vantage point at home, anyways) - even the broadcasters were talking about how well Desmond Hubert had adopted to his bench position and how much Roy had praised him for being accepting of it.
With two more games left before Duke that are likely to look similar to last night's game (FSU at home and Maryland on the road), it's good to know the Heels can win comfortably even when they're not firing on all cylinders. Here's hoping they can carry this momentum through the rest of the regular season: even though it's a little ugly at times, we'll take the wins any day.