North Carolina on Saturday did a good job defending Virginia Tech guard Erick Green. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — Teams aren’t always going to play well and win. Sometimes they’ll play well and lose. Sometimes they’ll play poorly and find a way to win. So it was, mostly, for North Carolina on Saturday against Virginia Tech.
Despite a start that UNC coach Roy Williams described as “terrible,” the Heels found a way – mostly thanks to Marcus Paige and a dominant performance in overtime.
A belated version of our customary look back …
Three things to take away from the Tar Heels’ victory:
1. UNC didn’t play well but a win is a win.
A loss against Virginia Tech could have been disastrous for UNC. It would have been an awful loss, and it could have had catastrophic consequences for a team that’s still trying to find its way. But crisis averted. No, the Tar Heels didn’t play well on Saturday. Yes, that’s an understatement. But the Heels got the job done when it mattered most – namely in the second half, when it completed its comeback after a terrible start, and in overtime, when UNC outscored the Hokies 17-5. The best part about this game for the Heels: They played poorly enough to lose – and would have lost against a lot of teams – but won, anyway. And now they can forget about it and move on.
2. What a difference a week makes: Marcus Paige edition.
The old cliché perfectly describes Paige’s performance on Saturday compared to that of the previous Saturday, at N.C. State. Paige looked lost at times against the Wolfpack. He missed his first eight shots, couldn’t keep up with N.C. State point guard Lorenzo Brown and struggled in all aspects. A week later, he was the best player on the court during overtime against Virginia Tech. Paige found his shot on Saturday, and made four 3-pointers. He also finished with five assists.
3. The Tar Heels can indeed play defense, at least against an elite backcourt player.
Defensive lapses have been an issue for UNC since the beginning of the season. But there were no such lapses against Erick Green, the Virginia Tech senior guard who entered Saturday leading the nation in scoring. Green finished with 16 points – nine fewer than his average – and even the shots he made came with a hand in his face. He made just seven of his 21 shots, and UNC held him without a point for nearly 20 minutes through the final 16 minutes of regulation and the first three minutes of overtime. The Heels proved on Saturday they can focus enough defensively to stop – or at least slow down – one player. Can that carry over to team defense?
Virginia Tech shot better from the field, but North Carolina won the other three factors – and held a significant advantage in generating second-chance opportunities through offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line.
UNC on Tuesday night hosts Wake Forest, which is 10-11 overall and 3-6 in the ACC.