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Monday December 5th

UNC's identity this season? Here are five games to paint that picture so far.

North Carolina has established itself as a team that can hang with the best, but issues remain.

<p>UNC graduate guard Cameron Johnson (13) evades Virginia Tech sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (4) to make a pass at the Smith Center on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. The Tar Heels won the game 103-82.</p>
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UNC graduate guard Cameron Johnson (13) evades Virginia Tech sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (4) to make a pass at the Smith Center on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. The Tar Heels won the game 103-82.

When North Carolina enters Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night, it’ll do so with 25 games under its belt and a clear team identity.

The Tar Heels (20-5, 10-2 ACC) have bet on their speed and scoring this season, and it’s yielded results. UNC is averaging 78.4 possessions per game, seventh fewest in the country, and scoring 87.5 points per game, second in the country.

The team, working without a traditional post player for the second year in a row, also leads the nation in rebounding at 43 per game.

But turnovers (13.8 per game) and scoring defense (73.3 points allowed per game) have plagued North Carolina at times.

Ahead of UNC’s showdown with Duke, here are five key games from the season — ones that best reflect who the Tar Heels are, and who they are not.

Dec. 15: UNC 103, Gonzaga 90

UNC guard Cameron Johnson charges through the Gonzaga defense during a game at the Dean Dome on Saturday night. UNC won 103 - 90.

In a matchup of two offensive juggernauts, North Carolina used rebounding and 3-point shooting to run away from the No. 4 team in the country.

Graduate guard Cameron Johnson had one of his best games of the year, with 25 points, six made threes and a number of heat checks. And senior Luke Maye put up 20 points and 16 rebounds.

Those two individual performances extended to the entire team. North Carolina sank 13 threes, tied for its third best this season, and outrebounded the Bulldogs 14-5 offensively and 42-21 in total.

Jan. 12: Louisville 83, UNC 62

UNC senior forward Luke Maye (32) tries to block Louisville center Steven Enoch (23) as he shoots the ball in the Smith Center Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Lousivlle beat UNC 83-62.

UNC’s worst home loss under head coach Roy Williams came in a Saturday noon game, against a team that lost its previous game to lowly Pittsburgh.

Louisville’s game plan highlighted two of North Carolina’s biggest weaknesses. The Cardinals cleared out early and often for their 6-foot-10 forward Steven Enoch, who had a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double. UNC was outrebounded 40-31 and outscored 32-26 in the paint.

The Tar Heels fell into multiple scoring droughts, and it reflected on the defensive end. Louisville shot 52 percent from the field and made 11 of 26 threes; UNC, with no offense to combat it, set season worsts in field-goal percentage (34.5) and 3-pointers (three).

Jan. 21: UNC 103, Virginia Tech 82

UNC first-year guard Coby White (2) dribbles past Virginia Tech sophomore guard Wabissa Bede (3) in the Smith Center on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. The Tar Heels won 103-82.

In the first half of this blowout win, first-years Coby White, Nassir Little and Leaky Black combined for 18 straight UNC points.

That was the main force behind a 20-0 run that gave the Tar Heels a massive lead they never lost. The Hokies had the country’s fifth-ranked scoring defense coming into the game, but UNC clicked on all cylinders offensively. There were shades of the Gonzaga win, right down to the final score.

White (27 points) and Little (a career-high 23) combined for nearly half of their team’s points. UNC also tied a season high with 16 3-pointers and racked up 58 points in the second half.

Feb. 9: UNC 88, Miami 85 (OT)

Miami junior guard Dejan Vasiljevic (1) guards UNC senior forward Luke Maye (32) on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 in the Smith Center. UNC men's basketball defeated Miami 88-85 in overtime.

A month removed from its loss to Louisville, UNC found itself in a similar predicament: struggling against an unranked team at home.

But the heroics of two players gave North Carolina its seventh straight ACC win, in a game full of dramatics. White tied his career high with 33, sinking six second-half 3-pointers and leading a furious comeback late. With 10.2 seconds left, Maye sank a three from the right wing to tie the game at 77.

North Carolina hadn’t seen a game come right down to the wire all season, so the overtime victory gave the team some valuable experience in such a situation. White’s unreal second half was also a glimpse at how UNC can play when the talented point guard is given free rein of the offense.

Feb. 11: Virginia 69, UNC 61

Virgina junior guard Braxton Key (2) drives past UNC junior guard Brandon Robinson (4) on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019 in the Smith Center. UNC lost 69-61. 

One game later, the Tar Heels found themselves going down to the wire again — but this time, against one of the nation’s top teams that wouldn’t let up.

UNC trailed 36-29 at halftime, but a second-half scoring burst put the team ahead 53-46 with just under nine minutes to play. From there, the Cavaliers’ famed defense took control of the game — UNC scored just eight points in the last eight minutes, compared to Virginia’s 23.

The game was still winnable late, but consecutive back-breaking threes from Kyle Guy gave Virginia enough of a cushion. The Tar Heels finished with season worsts in points and free throw attempts (seven).

Also of note, however, were injuries to Johnson and Little — and a deep, desperation 3-pointer by White, when the game was tied at 59, that was correctly waved off.


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