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January 18, 2014

Heels put it all together in victory

Coach Roy Williams joked that the stars and moon had aligned properly to allow North Carolina's shots to fall as the Tar Heels beat Boston College 82-71 for it's first league win Saturday afternoon in the Smith Center.

But for the players, it was a combination of heightened energy, shot selection and feeding off of their own defensive success that allowed the Tar Heels to push the score more than they did in their first three ACC games.

UNC's 82 points were more than 25 points above the team's average in its previous three games, but it was a difference brought on by more than mere technical offensive improvement or shifts.

"The more energy that we have on the defensive end, we carry that over to offense because we have guys who came from high school where guys were scorers, guys could put it in the basket without a doubt," J.P. Tokoto said.

"I get here and if I make a bad defensive play, I kind of get down on myself and if I go to the other end, make another bad play, I feel like it kind of just snowballs."

James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige led UNC to 51.9 percent shooting in the first half by combining for 15 of the Tar Heels' 36 points.

But just as North Carolina made defensive improvement in the second half to decrease Boston College's shooting success from 50 percent to 38.5 percent, UNC players - other than the team's two leaders - caught fire too.

McAdoo added just six points to his game total 17 in the Tar Heels' last 20 minutes of play and Paige had only seven of 21 points in the second half as other players contributed points.

Tokoto picked up 10 of his 14 points by making four of his six field goal attempts and both free throws he shot in the second half. Leslie McDonald had seven second half points and Kennedy Meeks had all 10 of his points in second half play as the pair joined Tokoto, Paige and McAdoo in the double digits.

Brice Johnson also had six of his eight points in the second half, putting his name on the list of Tar Heels who followed the Paige-McAdoo example from the first period of play.

"I did get a little passive in the second half," Paige said. "I tend to do that when I'm playing point guard and I haven't had a lot of chances to be the primary point guard the entire time this year. But other guys were making shots so I didn't have any problem with it."

Paige said his and McAdoo's assertion in the first half was a lead-by-example response to a conversation the pair had on the flight back from Syracuse. The sophomore and junior "veterans," then had a conversation with the entire team about heeding Williams' coaching emphasis on effort, and the way the team played the Eagles was the answer to that call.

The captains' aggression spread contagiously on defense, the hybrid point/shooting guard said, and made his second half passive play less of a weak point.

"I didn't feel the need to force my offense or anything like that because other guys had things going," he said. "We're unselfish enough as a team that (...) if a guy's open, you've got to give him the ball and we have some talented players that when they're rolling, you've just got to go with it, whoever's got the hot hand."

The ability to share the ball and play as a collective unit against Boston College showed the entire team's responsive attitude to the demand of a change in effort.

That the team conversation worked was a reflection of the lack of both selfish players and egos on this season's team, according to Tokoto. He said that the way the team listened to the x's and o's guide of Williams to prepare for Boston College showed that it had adopted the attitude it needed.

"Today we didn't have that (negative snowball effect)," Tokoto said. "This week in practice it was just guard your man, worry about what you can contribute."

"We put it in the game and it worked."

That effort and defense that changed over the full-week break between games worked to better North Carolina's shooting percentage, too, as the team did not alter the way it worked on shots.

"The ball went in the basket," Williams said. "We've worked on our shooting the same way, and today the ball went in."


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