The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 24th

Preview: With ACC Tournament looming, UNC looks to ride momentum against Wake Forest

UNC graduate guard Christian Keeling (55) shakes hands with his teammates after the loss against Virginia at the Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Buy Photos UNC graduate guard Christian Keeling (55) shakes hands with his teammates after the loss against Virginia at the Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

For the first time since the end of January, the North Carolina men's basketball team has won consecutive games, with just two matchups remaining before postseason play begins.

In the Tar Heels' final home game of the regular season, UNC will play host to Wake Forest on Tuesday in a rematch of the team's 74-57 loss to the Demon Deacons on Feb. 11. A home win before North Carolina travels to Durham for its finale against a reeling Duke squad could prove to be the key for the Tar Heels to pull an improbable run through the ACC Tournament. Here's what UNC needs to do to get that much-needed victory. 

Feed Christian Keeling

Over his last eight games, Keeling has shown how much more comfortable he is in North Carolina's system and has emerged as a legitimate scoring option for UNC.

During that span, the grad transfer is averaging 13.1 points per game on 56.9 percent shooting, including the Tar Heels' first game against Wake Forest when he poured in 15 points in 30 minutes. Keeling averaged just 4.4 points per contest and shot 37.7 percent from the floor in his first 21 games with North Carolina.

In UNC's last two wins, Keeling contributed 16 points against the Wolfpack and 18 against the Orange, shooting a combined 14-20 from the field off the bench. The guard was one of the few bright spots for the Tar Heels in the team's 17-point loss to the Demon Deacons, and North Carolina should look to give him plenty of looks in Tuesday's rematch now that he's hitting his stride.

Don't fall behind early

UNC struggled mightily in the first half of last month's meeting with Wake Forest and entered the break down 44-26.

North Carolina, normally one of the premier rebounding teams in the country, was losing the battle on the boards, 21-17, at the end of the first period. The Tar Heels shot 11-35 from the floor, and Garrison Brooks, the team's second leading scorer for the season, had just three points that came entirely from free throws following his eye injury in the loss to Duke just three days earlier.

For UNC to have a shot at defeating the Demon Deacons on Tuesday night, it will have to get off to a hotter start than the last time the two teams faced off, a task that doesn't seem as daunting after the Tar Heels' last two games. In both of those wins, North Carolina put up 40 points in the first half and shot at least 47 percent from the field throughout the opening period.

Limit fouls

Foul trouble was one of the factors that doomed the Tar Heels in their first meeting with Wake Forest.

Six of North Carolina's nine players that saw the floor picked up three or more fouls, and head coach Roy Williams was forced to turn to his bench for extended stretches, leading to 15 minutes of playing time each for Walker Miller and Justin Pierce.

The duo combined for two points on 1-5 shooting, and Pierce picked up four fouls himself to really test the limits of how deep in the rotation Williams was willing to dive.

Wake Forest capitalized on UNC's sloppy defense to force 22 attempts from the charity stripe and converted on 19 of them. For the Tar Heels to pick up a win in the Smith Center on Tuesday, they'll have to play smarter and try to contain the number of fouls they commit.

@McMastersJ

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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