CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The ninth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels rolled past Virginia Tech for their seventh-straight victory and into sole possession of first place in the ACC standings by dominating the statistical categories that are little more than footnotes at the bottom of box scores.
The Hokies (15-5, 4-4 ACC) nearly shot a full 10 percentage points higher than UNC (19-3, 7-1 ACC) in the first half on Thursday – 50.0 to 40.5 - yet found themselves trailing 44-33 at the break. A closer look reveals that UNC took 18 more field goal attempts than its opponent, making five more, to build its double-digit lead.
Such a discrepancy is possible by keeping possessions alive after the initial miss and by limiting opponent possessions by forcing turnovers and capitalizing off those miscues. UNC outscored the Hokies, 13-2, in second-chance points in the first half by outrebounding them on the offensive glass, 16-1, and then were lethally efficient in converting six turnovers into 11 points.
For the game, UNC took 22 more field goal attempts (73-51) and outscored VT 20-6 in second-chance points and 11-5 in points off turnovers.
“It goes back to what [the coaching staff] always talks about,” junior wing Justin Jackson said. “Fast break points, Coach always talks about running. Second-chance points, Coach always talks about getting to the boards. If you look at those stats and one team is dominating another team in that stat, more than likely that’s the team that won. Coach always talks about those things, so we’ve got to pay attention to those and do what he says.”
UNC scored 20 second-chance points for the sixth time in seven games and for the 12th time this season. The Tar Heels are outscoring their opponents, 18.7-8.1, in second-chance points through 22 games.
Those opportunities are not so much an emphasis as it is a byproduct of rebounding, an area of the game in which UNC leads the nation with a plus-14.5 rebound margin.
“It’s definitely important to us because you get more possessions and you get more opportunities to score,” senior forward Kennedy Meeks said. “This is a team that’s definitely going to continue to give effort and that will win the battle for the rebounds.”
That ownership of the boards makes it easier for UNC’s perimeter players to fire away, as evidenced by their season-high 14-of-30 shooting from long range.
“We want to score the ball on the first try, but if not, we know that we have Kennedy, Isaiah, Justin, Kenny and other guys going to the boards,” junior guard Joel Berry said. “When you take a shot, you know you have the confidence, if you’re not making it, you’ve got guys going to the boards.”
UNC has been equally as productive in not only scoring points off turnovers by also limiting the damage of its own errors. The Tar Heels are outscoring their opponents, 19.5-11.5, in points off turnovers while averaging 1.24 points per turnover against a 0.89 average by their opponents.
Williams’s squad is also winning all of the other relevant specialty stats as well: fastbreak points (9.6-6.6), points in the paint (41.5-26.5) and bench scoring (23.6-16.6).