The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday February 26th

UNC basketball's complete game helps the Tar Heels pass the N.C. State test

The Tar Heels defeat the Wolfpack 86-76

Thirty-eight points from players off the bench. Fifty-one points for the true first-years. Ten efficient points on 4-5 shooting for redshirt first-year guard Anthony Harris in just his third game back from injury.

For the North Carolina men's basketball team, the pieces fit well enough for UNC to pass the test.

The Tar Heels' 86-76 home win over N.C. State was the first time this season that head coach Roy Williams' squad has faced a team more than once this year. It's a litmus test to see how much his group has improved over the last month of ACC competition since that 79-76 defeat to the Wolfpack.

And North Carolina did enough in the rematch to pass that test by putting together its most complete game of the season.

"I don’t know (if it was the best game), but it’s up there, like, probably one of our best games so far," first-year big Day'Ron Sharpe said. "Only thing is, like coach was saying, the turnovers, and we go on little runs where we let other teams stay in it. We gotta learn how to keep it going (so) when we get that big lead, we keep the lead and blow them out.”

If you need more proof of just how far this team has come as it begins to gel, you don't need to look back farther than last year. By this time last season, the Tar Heels were in the middle of a skid that saw them drop 12 of 14 games from the beginning of January to the middle of February. It was becoming clear last season's team had a ceiling — a very low one at that.

But, right now, North Carolina is trending upwards in almost every facet.

Sure, the defense still needs work after giving up 76 points to a Wolfpack group that just spent the last week and change battling COVID issues throughout the program.

But sophomore Armando Bacot's 17 points and eight rebounds are the latest evidence that he's clearly made the jump to become a much more consistent option compared to last year.

Harris looked fresh with 10 points, two rebounds and a steal in just 10 minutes of action — more importantly for Williams, though, no complaints after the game about problems with his knee.

First-year guard RJ Davis has settled into his role as a spark plug off the bench, scoring eight of his 10 points in a span of two minutes and 13 seconds. He's now reached double figures four games in a row after finding his rhythm by coming into the game later — a move N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said made sense for UNC.

Sharpe made more baskets (eight) than he did in the previous three games combined (seven). He's been putting in time at practice to work on his counter moves down low, spins in the post and fakes around the block, and it seems to be paying off.

The list goes on and on.

"I think it might be, but nowhere near where we should be," first-year guard Caleb Love said when asked if he thought Saturday's win was UNC's most well-rounded performance this year.

And it seems the improvement is partly related to the wake-up call that Williams laid on his team during a timeout on Saturday: the new guys aren't so new anymore.

After 15 games and about 60 practices, Williams expects his group to pass this test every game for the remainder of the season. Actually, he wants them to ace it.

“The tough thing for our freshmen is that I expect much more of them because I think we have that ability there," he said. "We just got to get our brain and our heart involved, not just our ability.”

@McMastersJ

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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