Tar Heels revved up to resume 15-501 rivalry after snowout
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was “very disappointed” that UNC’s game against Duke last Wednesday was postponed.
But after the Tar Heels picked up two more big wins over the past week, his team should be even more prepared when the storied rivalry resumes tonight at the Smith Center (9:10 p.m., ESPN/WRAL).
UNC (18-7, 8-4) beat No. 25 Pittsburgh on Saturday, and then overcame an early 17-3 deficit and zero points from James Michael McAdoo to win at Florida State on Monday. Now the Tar Heels have a seven-game winning streak heading into tonight’s showdown with the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (21-5, 10-3).
“That part has helped our confidence, there’s no question,” Williams said.
McAdoo had perhaps his best game of the season against Pittsburgh, posting 24 points and 12 rebounds. Then the Tar Heels showed they could win without the junior forward, who had 17 straight games with at least 11 points before he went scoreless against the Seminoles and fouled out in 13 minutes.
“That means a lot to us,” sophomore Marcus Paige said. “Because he’s obviously one of our best players, one of our most prolific scorers, and to have him play the way he did against Florida State and have us still be able to bounce back and win… it gave the rest of the guys a confidence boost.”
Williams doesn’t think that McAdoo’s confidence should be affected, either.
“It’s just how the game goes sometimes — not very often,” McAdoo said. “But I’m just extremely proud of my teammates. Excited to just be able to get out of there with a win, no matter how, no matter what fashion. Of course you want to play better, but at the end of the day North Carolina won, that’s all that matters.”
Freshman Kennedy Meeks and sophomore Brice Johnson helped pick up the slack in McAdoo’s absence. Meeks made his last 11 shots and scored 23 points, while Johnson had 14 points and 11 rebounds against FSU’s big front line.
Meeks could be a matchup problem for Duke’s interior defense — the 290-pound Charlotte native outweighs Blue Devils starting center Amile Jefferson by 80 pounds.
But on the other end, UNC will have to contend with one of the best outside shooting teams in the country. Duke is shooting 41.6 percent from behind the arc as a team, while UNC has just one player who makes more than 30 percent of his 3-point shots (Paige, 38.6).
The contrast between Duke’s perimeter-based offense and UNC’s interior game is just one interesting subplot to the game between the rivals, which are located 10 miles apart — although Williams joked that the distance seemed more like a 100 miles because of last week’s snowstorm, which left Duke unable to make the trip to Chapel Hill.
As a result, a Duke-UNC game was postponed for the first time in the 236-game history of the series, and now both teams are in the midst of playing four games in eight days (the Blue Devils beat Maryland on Saturday and won at Georgia Tech on Tuesday).
Paige said that the quick turnarounds this week will be good preparation for the postseason, when teams play on consecutive days in the ACC Tournament and twice in three days every weekend during the NCAA Tournament.
“Also they do test your toughness,” Paige said. “(Assistant coach Steve Robinson) talks about that a lot, ‘How tough are you? Are you going to let fatigue be a factor? Are you going to be able to push through that?”
Williams, who is 4-6 against Duke at home and 9-12 overall as UNC’s coach, said he doesn’t expect the short rest to be a factor.
“We would be practicing almost every day,” Williams said. “They’d rather play games than practice. It is what it is, so I try not to make any big deal out of it. I belittle the whole thing about people saying it’s hard.”
Of course, getting up for Duke wouldn’t be an issue no matter what the schedule looked like.
“At the end of the day the excitement, the nerves, the thinking about the game is going to be just as much as it (was last week),” McAdoo said. “Especially with us beating Pittsburgh, beating Florida State, keeping this going.”