CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – After being walloped at Georgia Tech 78-58 roughly three weeks ago, it was hard to imagine that North Carolina would bounce back to win four straight games – including Tuesday’s 106-74 blowout at Boston College (the Tar Heels’ largest ACC road victory since 2005).
Yet UNC has won 9 of its last 10 games, is back in the Associated Press top 25 (at No. 23), and tied atop the conference standings with fifth-ranked Duke.
Three reasons the Tar Heels have bounced back, and are now 6-1 in the ACC:
1.) The freshmen are finally getting it.
It took a while for point guard Kendall Marshall to be inserted into the starting lineup, for starting wing Harrison Barnes to consistently play like a pre-season All-America, and for reserve Reggie Bullock to show his outside firepower – but Tuesday, it all came together at once. And they were everything coach Roy Williams thought they could be.
“When you think about it, if I didn’t think they were going to be good, then why in the crap did I recruit them in the first place?” Williams said. “To me, Harrison does feel more comfortable now. That game Saturday [when he scored 25 against N.C. State] gave him a great deal of confidence. I think it showed him how good it feels to be successful. But again, I think he was more active [on Saturday] and I think he was more active tonight as well.”
He was active enough to post another career-high of 26 points, while Bullock added 16 off the bench (including 14 during a key comeback stretch in the first half). Marshall, meanwhile, chipped in a solid 7 points and 6 assists. He now has 63 assists and only 22 turnovers in his last 13 games.
“We all know our roles,’’ Bullock said. “Play defense, rebound the ball and knock down shots. Kendall’s getting everybody involved and Harrison’s just being him -- playing his game. We’ve been gelling together and it’s been working out pretty well the last couple of games.”
2.) Junior Larry Drew II has picked up his play.
Drew, replaced in the starting lineup by Marshall four games ago, has picked up his intensity while holding on to the ball. Against the Eagles, he threw nine assists with only one turnover; he now has 20 assists and four turnovers as a reserve.
Drew -- who continues to play roughly the same amount of minutes as Marshall -- doesn’t necessarily think the line-up change has had as much of an effect as the fact that everyone else seems to be clicking, as well.
“Honestly, I think Harrison is making it a lot easier on my behalf,’’ Drew said. “Guys are just so focused on him – and then John [Henson] on the inside, the bigs have been playing excellent. That just makes my job so much easier.”
3.) The Tar Heels used the Yellow Jackets loss as an inspiration, of sorts.
Everyone’s sick of talking about last season, but the fact is this: While the Tar Heels would have holed up and hung their heads after such a lopsided loss in 2009-10, this UNC team bucked up and decided to improve (rather than digress) after being embarrassed by the Jackets. Williams didn’t “kill” his team in practice after that loss; instead, he made a change to the starting lineup. And his players responded.
“It is a big deal,’’ forward Tyler Zeller said of that embarrassment at Georgia Tech. “It’s one of those things we look back on, and we tell each other, ‘This is not who we are, that’s not what we’re about.’ We had no defensive intensity, everybody was just kind of out of it. It’s one of those things we look back on, and think about where we can be – and know that road games, we’ve just got to get into it.”