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Unispired UNC wins / December 30, 2013

UNC men’s basketball remains something of a mystery, with more question marks showing up after Friday’s 75-60 win over Northern Kentucky at the Smith Center.

The Heels, who have one more non-ACC test before the start of conference play, are 9-3 and 6-2 at home this year.

There’s no question Carolina has proven it can play with anyone on the college basketball landscape. There’s also little doubt the Heels, in their current form, are vulnerable to an early postseason exit, given the inconsistency shown so far.

The Heels had a workmanlike, unimpressive win Friday over the Norse, who are a relatively new Division 1 program. Northern Kentucky is now 4-8, but the Heels had a very so-so 15-14 assist to turnover ratio, and Carolina only shot 47.1 percent overall from the field. The Norse were offensively challenged, shooting 33.3 percent overall, but Carolina had some late difficulty nailing this down.

The Heels led by only 12 points, 69-57, with 2:24 left.

UNC did not exactly put the hammer down, reverting to ramming speed.

There are some things we know. Sophomore guard Marcus Paige had a game-high and career-best nine rebounds. He also connected on three treys and finished with 11 points. He’s the lone Tar Heel to score in double figures in each of the first 12 games.

Carolina also shot 50 percent from the field in the second half. It was the eighth time in 12 games that the Heels shot 50 percent or better in the second half. The Heels blocked 15 shots, tying the second-highest figure in school history.

UNC coach Roy Williams issued a bill of complaints afterwards and was clearly uphappy with some less than stellar play from his club.

“The biggest part of the game was not very sharp to say the least. I probably gave them too much time (for the holiday break). At Christmas we played Saturday and let them go and didn’t bring them back until 7 last night. We were not sharp to say the least. That was a huge part of the game, but at the same time I don’t think we had the intensity and the concentration level that we needed to have,” said Williams.

“When you add both of those together I think we weren’t very sharp. It makes you miss easy shots or throw the ball, who knows. A couple of times we were passing it to each other instead of shooting it and it goes out of bounds. I was not pleased defensively or on the backboards or attacking the basket. We had a tremendous size advantage and one of our goals was to attack the basket and we didn’t get a single low post-up or taking the ball to the basket the entire first half. So I was pretty frustrated at that,” said Williams.

Williams used his bench extensively, including sending an early message to start the second half. Williams inserted Luke Davis, Paige, Jackson Simmons and Isaiah Hicks to start the second half.

“Putting those five guys to start the second half, I thought they gave us a tremendous lift defensively. [They] did some really good things for us. That sort of turned it around,” Williams said.

The Heels are facing questions about an overall stunt in their growth, especially in terms of basketball maturity.

“I hope it is because maturity means that we can get there. Lack of maturity now means that we can get there eventually. So I hope that’s what it is. We are an extremely young club, but we have had 12 games, so you have to be able to bring it. I do think I shoulder part of the blame because I could have brought them back Christmas night, but I thought if I did that J.P. [Tokoto] and Marcus [Paige] would have to leave unbelievably early Christmas Day” said Williams.

The Heels know they have to get better.

“In the first half we didn’t make the best decisions with the ball and we didn’t play as hard at times on defense. Coach just wanted all of us to come out in the second half and play and just play the way we’re supposed to play” Simmons said.

Added McDonald, “There were multiple things weren’t that great. Mostly it’s within us, we have to have that mentality. I don’t think we were mentally ready. Defensively, we have to have that mentality because we have to bring it every game; every game is a fight and we have to understand that. “ UNC meets UNC Wilmington tomorrow night before the start of ACC play.

ACC HOOPS NOTEBOOK: Duke rolled to a tuneup-style win Saturday over Eastern Michigan, as Jabari Parker had 23 points and eight boards. No. 9 Duke won 82-59 and improved to 10-2 overall. The Blue Devils meet Elon Tuesday.

Syracuse defeated Villanova in a Top Ten matchup Saturday. Missouri barely escaped N.C. State in Raleigh, 68-64, in a narrow miss for the Wolfpack.

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