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February 15, 2014

Heels have the answers in Pitt triumph

CHAPEL HILL--- North Carolina answered Pittsburgh's offense many times in its close 71-75 win over the Panthers Saturday in the Smith Center.

The shots or runs that went unanswered allowed the visiting ACC newcomers to turn a UNC-dominated second half into a close three-point game, but Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo made plays for the Tar Heels when they were needed late and Carolina held on to get its sixth-straight conference win.

Williams compared the hectic final seconds Saturday to the epic 1972 Olympic Gold Medal game between the United States and the Soviet Union, where defeat and victory was snatched away and given to both teams at the end before the U.S.S.R's controversial ultimate triumph.

Fortunately for the Tar Heels this one went in the win column, and they'll take a 17-7 overall record and 7-4 mark in ACC play to Tallahassee for a quick turn-around against Florida State Monday night.

"That's what it felt like out there," Williams said, referring to the drawn-out, possession-changing final seconds of the game. "Still, James Michael (McAdoo) and Marcus... 37 and 38 minutes."

"I hate that part but my gosh - James Michael was 24 (pts) and 12 (rebounds) and Marcus was 5-6 from the three-point line. (...) Marcus made some big threes in the second half. Every time (Pittsburgh) would make a little run, we'd make a couple baskets ourselves until the very end there."

McAdoo and Paige, the Tar Heel veteran pair who have been continually more consistent for UNC over the course of the season, set the tone and led the team in playing better against slow-paced, zone-defending Pittsburgh in a way that showed growth in two of the toughest challenges for North Carolina since early conference games.

"We definitely realized that when we were playing defense, they were going to use most of - if not all - of the shot clock, so that was definitely something that was emphasized," McAdoo said. "Coach also emphasized just running and get out in transition, I feel like we were able to do that a lot today. But the main thing that he emphasized was just being prepared and ready to play defense the entire possession, which we're not used to especially when we play a lot of teams that want to get up and down (the court)."

Brice Johnson blocked five shots in a defensive performance that reflected the continual progress the sophomore's made defensively. Those blocks combined with a team total seven steals were a key to UNC's success against the Panthers' pace.

"We've played a lot of teams that slow it down, we just had to try and get them to speed it up," Johnson said. "On the defensive end just try and get them to turn it over, get run-outs and be able to go with the primary break or secondary break - stuff like that."

"We did it very well (today). In the first half, they were still able to work their offense and stuff but (in the) second half we got a bunch of steals and were able to just go out and play the way we need to play."

Williams said that the bottom line for North Carolina moving forward will be having players other than McAdoo and Paige make big plays.

In recent games, Kennedy Meeks, Leslie McDonald and Johnson have rotated being that third step-up guy, but against Pittsburgh there was no clear-cut third key contributor.

Paige recognizes how the pair works well together, and how it did so particularly in combining for 42 of North Carolina's 75 points.

"Now it's a year and a half of playing with (McAdoo), I understand what he likes to do," Paige said. "We can really feed off of each other, I know where he likes the ball, he knows where to find me so it's a great two-man attack that we have."

"Then obviously that gets other guys involved because if teams have to focus on us then guys like Leslie (McDonald) can get a couple shots or we can go high-low with Brice (Johnson) and Kennedy (Meeks), so us producing and us working has an effect on the rest of the team."

Johnson was the only other player to score in double digits with his 12, but the focus for North Carolina is on completing a four games in eight days stretch with the collective energy and urgency that it performed with against Pittsburgh.

"I'm telling them it's no problem," he said. "They're 18-, 19-, 20-year olds, they shouldn't get tired."

In what will be a fast-paced week on the schedule, Williams says he will run shorter practices to give his players the rest they need in order to allow his team to continue its winning streak, but he believes that the opportunity to play games rather than merely work in practices is one the team should look forward to.

"If I could go play games instead of go through a Roy Williams practice, I'd be the happiest guy in the world."


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