In December, North Carolina coach Roy Williams lamented that his team had a minuscule margin of error.
Up until that point, his Tar Heels hadn’t proven that they were capable of winning without playing up to their full potential.
Once things started to take a nosedive in a game, UNC couldn’t right the ship. The tailspins resulted in frustrating losses to Belmont, Alabama-Birmingham and a 1-4 start in ACC play.
If Marcus Paige was shut down, if James Michael McAdoo wasn’t scoring — forget it, UNC was done.
But in the games since the befuddling non-conference losses and opening ACC season slide, the Tar Heels have shown encouraging growth.
An eight-point win against Duke. A 33-point win against Wake Forest. A one-point overtime win against N.C. State. A two-point win against Notre Dame.
“I remember the feeling I had was that if everything is not working effectively, we’re not going to win. We have to play very close to our potential for us to win,” Williams said. “And the margin has gotten a little bit bigger.”
Though the margin of error hasn’t quite widened as far as Williams’ would like, the Tar Heels have developed a wide range of ways to win.
When Paige, UNC’s leading scorer and hero in the overtime win against N.C. State was held to single digits against Virginia Tech, McAdoo, Leslie McDonald and J.P. Tokoto stepped up to shoulder the load.
Two days later against Notre Dame, Paige was again shut down, and once more, McAdoo and Tokoto picked up the slack.
Though UNC’s has maintained its growing win streak despite error-riddled performances, the margin of error hasn’t widened in McDonald’s mind.
“Every little play counts,” he said. “That’s how we think of it. Just one little mistake can be our biggest downfall. Against Notre Dame, one little mistake that possibly could have happened, we could have lost. My mistake at the end of fouling could have been the game for us.”
And tonight in an electric and hostile atmosphere against Duke, the Tar Heels will be held accountable for every hiccup.
“We might have a little bit more of a margin for error than maybe earlier in the season,” Paige said. “But at this time in the year against a team like Duke, in Cameron — I don’t think they’ve lost in 30-something games — the margin for error isn’t very big.
“We understand if we play the way we’ve played the last couple of games, it’s not going to get it done. We’ve got to have a maximum effort, maximum execution type of game.”
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