With a little less than 13 minutes remaining in the second half of No. 10 North Carolina’s 89-82 win against No. 9 Michigan State, MSU forward Delvon Roe beat UNC’s defense down the floor and finished an easy layup to cut the Tar Heels’ lead to 13.
For the moment, at least.
Point guard Dexter Strickland raced up the court on the resulting inbounds pass and quickly spotted an unmarked Marcus Ginyard streaking toward the basket.
Without hesitation, Strickland flicked a lob pass to Ginyard that hit the senior in stride on an unobstructed path to the basket.
And like that, UNC had answered. Five seconds had passed.
Just like old times.
“Coach made an emphasis to us before the game; he thought that they were going to come and try to outrun us,” point guard Larry Drew II said. “Guys took that as a personal challenge to go out and show them we’re the best running team in the nation.”
Strickland and Drew set the tone from the opening tip-off, making a conscious effort to sprint up the floor at every opportunity they saw open space in front of them.
On one such opportunity in the first half, Strickland attempted to dribble the length of the court for a quick basket, but had his layup attempt blocked by Roe as he drove toward the rim.
Undeterred, the freshman made another coast-to-coast run just half a minute later, finding enough space to create another layup opportunity — and the second time he finished.
“I was just trying to help my team out,” Strickland said. “We were running the break pretty hard. We were trying to get early buckets and play good defense, get a good lead.”
But it wasn’t all so pretty.
At times, the Tar Heels’ point guards were moving a little faster than they were comfortable with.
Drew committed three turnovers, and all of those occurred when the sophomore point guard tried to thread the needle to a big man in the post on the run.
And a flurry of sloppy offensive possessions near the end of the game allowed the Spartans to whittle UNC’s lead to six.
“(Drew) had a spell in the second half in which he threw two passes off the backboard. The Houston Rockets a hundred years ago had a play like that throwing it to Moses Malone,” coach Roy Williams said. “That’s not our play. He wasn’t trying to do that.”
The up-tempo pace helped spark life into a UNC offense that had been bogged down in half-court sets most of the season. The Tar Heels’ point guards found a way to get their big men comfortable running and raced to a 16-point halftime lead on the strength of the fast break.
Strickland acknowledged afterward that Tuesday’s game was the most polished and efficient UNC had played all season on the fast break, but said his coach was far from satisfied with how it functioned in the second half.
“Coach Roy was really mad because we can do much better,” Strickland said. “But that was one of our best games.”
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