North Carolina's half-empty win
Posted January 19, 2013
Fact: College basketball is a 40-minute game.
Reality: Sometimes you only need to play 20 to decide the outcome.
North Carolina picked up its second win of the conference season Saturday afternoon without the visiting Terrapins putting up much of a fight at the Smith Center. The final score read 62-52, but in reality this game was over at halftime with the Tar Heels leading 42-20.
The numbers tell you everything you need to know. Offensively, Reggie Bullock hit Maryland with a 21-point first half onslaught, hitting 3 of his 4 shots from outside the 3-point arc, and James Michael McAdoo added 11 points on a variety of smooth, mid-range shots.
But, it was when Maryland had the ball that this game was decided.
The Terrapins turned it over 15 times in the first half – almost 40 percent of their possessions – and only shot 33 percent when they weren't bothering to needlessly throw the ball away. I have no concept of how to calculate offensive efficiency ratings, but I'm fairly certain that Maryland would not have registered anywhere on the scale during the first 20 minutes. And that, coupled with an active, aggressive Tar Heels defensive effort explains why the guys in white were so comfortably ahead.
It was a beautiful first half of basketball, even though it could have been better. With all of the turnovers, the Heels still left a few transition opportunities on the table. Bullock was in total control of his game, confident in what he was doing, en route to a career best performance.
But, the ease of this win will mask the fact that with everything UNC did on the defensive end and all that Maryland contributed with their offensive ineptitude, the Tar Heels still failed to completely put the hammer down. North Carolina shot a woeful 24 percent in the second half overall and made just 1 of 10 from 3-point range as they essentially begged the Terps to get back in the game.
Fortunately for UNC, Maryland refused, because the opportunities were there for this to get a little hairy for the Heels.
Getting better as a team throughout the season is a process, and North Carolina is going through those stages right now. But if you think that the proverbial ship has been "righted" because the Heels have climbed back to .500, then you're not paying attention. One of the most irrelevant statistics in sports is the halftime score. Leads can, and will, vanish in a hurry. Yet the Tar Heels played the second half as though Maryland coming back was an impossibility.
I know how some will receive this. I know some of you will say, 'well, Maryland didn't come back,' or, 'why do you have to be so negative?' But I promise you that's not how Roy Williams thinks. After the game, Williams repeatedly begged off questions about the second-half performance and made a point to identify that Bullock and McAdoo played well "in the first half," stopping short of crediting them with great "games."
And that's because great coaches know what winning basketball looks like. Roy knew that North Carolina's second half was far more about their own effort level and execution than Maryland desperately playing their way back into the game.
Roy Williams also knows that one of the first steps in regaining your footing is buying in to a 40-minute effort. They did that last weekend in Tallahassee, but they failed to complete that task today at home. After the game, Roy related a favorite saying of his; "If you did it once, you can do it again."
That would apply not only from game to game, but in the case of Saturday's win over Maryland, from half to half. This team still has a long way to go.
Of note: Marcus Paige didn't shoot the ball well, but he made some strides running the team. Six assists and zero turnovers and seemingly more in command of situations, especially late in the game, had to make Roy Williams feel a little bit better about his freshman point guard.
Desmond Hubert, Joel James, Brice Johnson and Jackson Simmons played a combined 40 minutes and totaled just five rebounds. While Desmond did a very good job guarding Maryland's imposing center, Alex Len, the combined effort on the boards for that group was one of the reasons why the Terrapins were able to avoid being completely demolished.