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A little over a week ago, North Carolina was pretty close to rock bottom, having looked shockingly helpless in a loss at Pittsburgh after blowing a late lead to lose to Clemson at home for the first time in school history. The Heels, however, took a large step forward over the past week, culminating in Monday’s 75-65 win at N.C. State.
Even the overtime loss against Virginia Tech felt different from the earlier losses in the losing streak. The primary difference? As Roy Williams has said many times over his career and repeated once again after Saturday’s 94-71 win over Miami, “When the ball goes in the basket, everything looks better.”
Carolina first showed signs of life by shooting 51.6% from the floor in the first half in Blacksburg, the first time the Heels have cracked 50% in the first half all season. And while the result was disappointing, this one felt a little different, as the early success shooting the ball seemed to have injected a little confidence into a team desperate for just that.
Carolina then followed that disappointing result with their best performance of the season, shooting 58.0% from the field against a banged-up Miami team missing two starters, including star point guard Chris Lykes. Amazingly, this was the first time this season the Tar Heels have shot over 50% from the field; it was also the first game in which UNC shot over 50% in both halves (55.0 in the first half, 62.1 in the second).
Carolina then shot 53.3% from the field in the first half of a 75-65 win at rival N.C. State on Monday, giving Roy Williams his 15th win at PNC Arena.
After shooting 40.0% on the season coming into the Virginia Tech game, Carolina has now exceeded 50% in four of the last six halves of play and have shot 50.5% overall in the last three games. As for the reason for the improvement, UNC has seemed to play with better spacing and ball movement in the last two games.
“I don’t think we stood very much today,” Williams noted after the Miami win. “I think we moved intelligently without the ball.”
Despite sitting out the Virginia Tech loss with lingering neck pain after a Jan. 11 car accident and continuing to be limited in practice, senior guard Brandon Robinson seems quite comfortable at the Dean Smith Center. Robinson’s 29 points on 6-of-10 shooting from deep broke the career high of 27 points set in Carolina’s previous home game against Clemson.
Robinson was in obvious discomfort on multiple occasions down the stretch against N.C. State but still contributed 11 points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field.
PLATEK PROVIDING STABILITY
Although he has continued to struggle with his shot (just 4 of 20 from 3-point range), junior wing Andrew Platek has quietly been providing efficient, steady play for the Tar Heels.
Coming into the N.C. State game, UNC had been 19.8 points per 100 possessions better with Platek on the floor (187 minutes) than with him on the bench (148 minutes). And against the Wolfpack, Platek’s defense on Wolfpack guard C.J. Bryce (0 total points on 0-of-8 shooting) was instrumental in the Tar Heels’ win.
In addition to playing solid defense, Platek has been an outstanding facilitator and has made good decisions on the wing, resulting in 18 assists and six turnovers in the last four games.
ANTHONY’S RETURN AHEAD
Cole Anthony made it clear this week both on Twitter and after the N.C. State win that he’s “all in” and still plans to return to play for UNC this season. Asked about his current status, Anthony said he still had a little soreness but felt close to 100% recovered from his meniscus surgery and was simply awaiting getting cleared by the team doctors.
BLUE CHIP LB COMMITS
Power Echols, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound linebacker from Charlotte Vance High, committed to the Tar Heels during Saturday’s UNC junior day. Echols was the MVP of the state 4-AA Championship game in 2019 and is ranked as a top-10 inside linebacker in the country. He committed to UNC over offers from Clemson, Penn State, Tennessee and others.
Echols joins Richmond County athlete Caleb Hood (Rockingham) and Hunter Huss safety Dontavius Nash (Gastonia) in a 2021 recruiting class expected to be smaller than usual in terms of numbers, but outstanding in terms of quality.
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK
880. With the win over Miami, Williams passed his mentor Dean Smith for career wins as a head coach. The win also marked Williams 462nd win as an ACC head coach, moving him into third place in conference history.
32. Against Miami, Carolina managed an assist on 80% of baskets (32 of 40). The 32 assists equaled a Williams-era UNC record.
“It’s North Carolina basketball,” Williams said afterwards. “It’s the way I’ve always known it.”
Carolina also had 32 assists on 41 baskets against Tennessee State in 2011.
7. Carolina has employed seven different starting lineups so far this season, the most since 2013–14.
65. With Jeremiah Francis sitting out the last two games due to stiffness and swelling in his knee, scholarship players have now missed 65 games this season due to injury, already the most in the Williams era at UNC, passing the 2009 season in which 64 games were missed. Given that Anthony Harris and Sterling Manley will not return this season, the final tally won’t be close.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.