During halftime at the Dean Smith Center Tuesday night, UNC and Furman were tied at 39. The Paladins shot over 53 percent from the field, including an 8-15 clip from behind the arc.
But the final buzzer sounded, the Tar Heels won the game 74-61, and in the second half, Furman couldn’t buy a basket, making only nine of 32 shots and shooting 2-18 from three-point territory.
So, what changed for the Tar Heels in those 15 minutes?
“I said at halftime, I felt like they were more physical than us on both ends of the floor, so from a defensive standpoint, that had to change,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “We had to be the aggressor. We had to be in the passing lanes. We had to be getting through screens. We had to be contesting shots, and I felt like we really did that.”
One of the points of emphasis for Davis at halftime was changing how UNC’s defense closed out on shooters, particularly Furman guard Alex Hunter. Hunter had 17 points in the first half but finished with just four in the second half, all while being held scoreless for the final 15 minutes.
To further answer Davis’ challenge of needing to be more physical, after over 17 minutes played in the second half, Furman could only muster 13 points. North Carolina was locking in — closing out on every shot the Paladins took — and crashing the glass, allowing Furman to grab four offensive rebounds and not allowing a single second-chance point all game for the first time since 2018 against Gonzaga.
“This week leading up to the game, it was live-action, so we came in ready to go,” senior forward Armando Bacot said. “Furman, they’re a pretty good team, they have a lot of good scorers, Alex Hunter and Jalen Slawson, they’re really high-level players so we knew we had to lock-in.”
North Carolina's halftime adjustments helped the team hold its fifth straight opponent to under 63 points — the first time UNC has to be able to do that since the 2010-11 season.
Even though the box score will only reflect that the Tar Heels finished with three steals and two blocked shots, the defensive intensity they applied went beyond that as they forced Furman into bad shots and to alter shots.
“Everybody makes mistakes, as long as it’s done with effort, I’ve got no problem with it, and I felt like in the second half we changed,” Davis said. “We changed the way that we were playing defense on number 10 (Hunter) with a sense of urgency. We changed in closing out to shooters like 51 (Conley Garrison). We changed in terms of making it harder defensively in the post for them to be able to score.”
On Saturday, North Carolina will get another chance to test out its defensive changes and make adjustments on the fly against No. 4 UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas.
“I think we’re great right now and going into this game we couldn’t be more excited and ready,” sophomore forward Dawson Garcia said. “We’re going to come in these next couple days in practice and we’re going to be super prepared.”
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