CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina enjoyed a surprisingly easy win over Pittsburgh on Sunday by getting back to the style of play that had the Tar Heels on top of the polls earlier in the season.
Consider these numbers: Pittsburgh outrebounded Carolina 41-29, including a whopping 19-1 margin on the offensive glass, yet Carolina coasted to an easy 21-point win. Why?
Yes, “things look better when the ball goes in the basket.” Coach Roy Williams’s go-to postgame press conference line certainly applied in Carolina’s win. Nearly 60 percent shooting (53% from three) will win a lot of games. And 85 points with five players in double figures — led by Brice Johnson’s 19 and Marcus Paige’s 15 — gives the Tar Heels a great chance on any night.
But the stat of the day was a function of what Williams preaches to his team on a daily basis.
“I think you just have to tell the team it’s all about the name on the front of the jersey,” Williams said when asked how he judges his team’s performance. “I’ve said many times if you take care of the name on the front of the jersey, the name on the back will be taken care of.”
UNC’s 32 made baskets on 26 assists is sharing basketball. It’s selfless basketball.
“Our offense was great for a long stretch of the season then we started dwindling a little bit and we weren’t as crisp,” senior Marcus Paige said following the win. “Today we got back to that old way of just moving the ball.”
“Not as crisp” was a kind way to describe Carolina’s past three games on the road. Two losses and a close call with a bad Boston College team, coupled with two of Carolina’s three lowest scoring ouputs of the season, led many pundits to question if the early season hype would pan out. Carolina was stagnating and a physical team like Pittsburgh can make ugly offense turn into ugly losses.
But Paige and his teammates had another idea against a Pitt team that Paige acknowledged had given the Heels “real trouble” in the past.
“(The ball) didn’t stick with anybody,” Paige said. "If you had a shot, take it with confidence. The fact that Justin (Jackson) and I are hitting shots helps our offense. No one held it — 26 assists on 32 baskets is fantastic and the way we want to play all the time. It wasn’t something we talked about a whole lot in practice, but it was something we had to get back to and we did.”
Jackson and Theo Pinson led the Heels with six assists apiece (each with only one turnover) as Carolina managed its ACC season high in assists. Carolina’s 59.3 percent from the field was a season high offsetting the one offensive rebound – the lowest total in the Williams era at Carolina.
With Paige and Justin Jackson emerging from their respective shooting slumps, Carolina’s offense can approach early season form heading into the Wednesday night matchup with Duke.
“Ball movement is very key for us because we are a very gifted offensive team,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys can score and we have to get (the ball) in their hands.
“Twenty-six on 32? That’s the way we want to play.”