Lucas: Feel Good – University of North Carolina Athletics
By Adam Lucas
It’s very, very difficult to win an Atlantic Coast Conference basketball game.
Most of us have forgotten that, because we’ve seen North Carolina do it with relative ease for years, decades, or generations. But it’s really very hard. Great coaches come into the ACC and fail almost every season.
So in the wake of Georgia Tech’s 88-65 loss to Carolina on Saturday night, let’s do something that we very rarely do in a season, unless it’s a big win over a rival or a confrontation in the top 10: let’s take advantage of it.
Things went remarkably well for the Tar Heels at the Smith Center. They marked inside, with Armand Bacot going for another 29 points and 12 rebounds. They scored from the outside, with RD Davis pumping in 21 points. After a few wins with a large amount of time on the field for the starters, no Tar Heel has played longer than 29 minutes.
Coach’s Assistant Jeff LeboThe scouting report focused on Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe, the league’s second leading scorer. With great defensive work from leaky black—and good job in the first half by Caleb Love—Devoe was held just 1-for-5 from the field, didn’t make a three-pointer and had six turnovers.
“We were really good on both sides of the pitch” Hubert Davis noted. But then this notorious pessimist Davis added, “Except for when we were turning the ball over,” and that column is for good vibes, Coach Davis, so we’re going to have to ask you to comply.
What did Josh Pastner say in his incredibly endearing pregame interview on the Tar Heel Sports Nework? “If I live to be 100, God willing, I’m 44 now. That means I only have 56 years left. It’s so short. Life is so precious and so fast. Every breath is a gift and every heartbeat is a gift. When you keep that in perspective, yes, stress happens and life happens. But if you keep that mindset, you can go through life and enjoy every day.
He is right, of course. It’s just unusual to have that perspective of a basketball coach, especially one who delivers wisdom to you while speaking to you through a transparent face shield. Pastner is a unique person in college sports, someone who makes the ACC more fun and also someone who has been known to slip $100 to lower level travel party members at random times and tell them to have dinner with him.
But I’m not quite at his level yet. Full disclosure: I find it much easier to enjoy every day when the Tar Heels are shooting 48% from the field, 36% from the three-point line and 90% from the foul line and enjoy a lead over 30 points against ACC opponents. And, of course, maybe it’s easy to like Pastner when he says things like, “When Carolina plays well, they’re good enough to go to the Final Four and I mean that.”
But things looked awfully good for the Tar Heels on Saturday. Justin Mc Koy played his best 18 minutes of the season and looked a lot like someone who will play a big role this season. Johnson puff played for the first time this season, an even more remarkable moment from the reaction he received from his teammates, who all saw Johnson’s struggles to regain his health and seemed delighted to see Johnson on the pitch. None were more exuberant than McKoy, who went to the bench when Johnson came on and said afterwards he had never been happier to be substituted for a game.
It’s a winning team environment. The Tar Heels look more like a team than they did a month ago. They now have 39 assists in the past two games, and the ball movement was exquisite at times against the Jackets.
“We trusted each other and we trusted each other” RD Davis noted. “We moved the ball and laughed at ‘I’. It was more about ‘us’. We found the teammate open and we were happy with each other’s success.”
Somewhere, Dean Smith is smiling. You can see it even in the way the Tar Heels interact when things go wrong. Caleb Love whistled a finger pass from Bacot in the second half for one of Love’s six turnovers. Bacot thought Love was going to shoot and didn’t expect a pass. The duo immediately found themselves on the pitch while getting back into defense to dissect what was wrong. Hubert Davis begs his team to communicate more clearly and more frequently. That’s exactly what Love and Bacot did.
It makes for a more fun team to watch, and it also makes for a better team. Carolina’s four ACC wins this season are by at least 15 points. The Tar Heels have only had three ACC regular season wins by that margin in the previous two seasons combined.
Of course, a very tough road mission looms in Miami on Tuesday, and the coming week with two key road games – the other is a visit to Wake Forest – can show us just how prepared the Tar Heels really are. fight at the conference. You’re never as good as you think when things are going well, and the Tar Heels always need a top-tier win.
But that’s a concern for tomorrow. Today the Tar Heels played very well, outplayed an ACC opponent and looked like they were improving quickly. Things are going so well right now, right now RD Davis paraphrases both Dean Smith and Roy Williams, and while he doesn’t quote them exactly, the thought is similar enough to be very satisfying.
“Everybody bought the us above me,” the second-year guard said. “They realize that our team’s success is greater than any individual success.”