Offense Fueling Winning Streak

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 15 North Carolina won its fifth game in a row on Saturday. The consistent theme over this winning streak has been improved offensive efficiency.

UNC (16-4, 6-1 ACC) jumped out to an 18-11 lead over Florida State by scoring on nine of its first 13 possessions. The Tar Heels connected on seven of their first 12 field goal attempts and scored two points off one of those misses to average 1.385 points per possession. Five Tar Heels scored and three players combined for five assists during that opening eight-minute stretch.

Those are the types of offensive spurts that UNC has put together ever since its late rally against Louisville two weeks ago.

“We really did some nice things with our execution on the offensive end,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said following his team’s 78-74 win over the Seminoles.

After FSU cut its deficit to 37-33 early in the second half, UNC doubled its lead on its next three possessions. Kennedy Meeks (12 points) found Marcus Paige (19 points) on a cut to the basket, Justin Jackson (14 points) connected with Brice Johnson (18 points, 14 rebounds) inside for a dunk and J.P. Tokoto dumped it down low to Meeks for a score.

The Seminoles’ shooting turned hot with less than nine minutes to play as they scored 12 points over a six-possession stretch. UNC offset that attempted rally by scoring on seven of eight possessions to building a 71-63 lead with 2:30 to play.

UNC shot 50 percent (14-of-28) in the first half, marking the third half in a row and fifth out of the last seven that it had equaled or eclipsed that threshold.

After shooting 45.3 percent through its first 15 games, including a 36.8 percent effort in its four losses, UNC is shooting 51.0 percent during its current winning streak. The Tar Heels shot 48.3 percent (29-of-60) against the Seminoles.

“[The offense] is kind of coming into form where you’re seeing multiple guys in double figures night in and night out, which is what we wanted at the beginning of the year,” Paige said. “We’re getting more out of Justin; that’s been talked about these last couple of games. He’s been more productive, more aggressive and he’s hitting the offensive boards. Brice is coming around to full form. Kennedy has been playing well and J.P. is going to give you a little bit of everything from a statistical perspective. And I’ve started being more efficient, so that’s a positive for us.”

Paige is averaging 14.4 points on 44.2 percent shooting over the last five games. He shot 36.8 percent during UNC’s first 15 games.

“Everyone else playing better has allowed me to play my game and not to force anything,” Paige said.

Jackson, who has scored 17, 16 and 14 in his last three outings, pointed to his teammates in the post for UNC’s improved offensive play.

“Our bigs have been working,” Jackson said. “I think whenever they come to work every game, it’s hard to beat us. The past couple of games they’ve been pretty dominant, so we just feed off that as guards and keep it going.”

The post trio of Meeks, Johnson and Isaiah Hicks has combined to shoot 58.8 percent (70-of-119) during UNC’s winning streak.

The Tar Heels have also assisted on 56.1 percent (83-148) of its field goals over their last five games, although Williams wasn’t happy about Saturday’s 13-assist-to- 29-baskets ratio against FSU.

“Thirteen assists and 29 baskets, that’s not a very good percentage for us,” Williams said. “I would think that’s below average…. We do try to share the ball. Tonight, a couple of times we should have given it up sooner.”

At a time when UNC’s defense hasn’t been as effective as it was earlier in the season – FSU shot 44.3 percent from the floor – the offense’s recent consistency has helped the Tar Heels climb into a tie for second place in the ACC standings.

“Our offense is clicking,” Paige said. “We just need to clean up some things defensively.”

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