Project 28: Men's Basketball vs. Wake Forest
This installment to the Project 28 series features a mid-week ACC matchup between Carolina’s men’s basketball team and the visiting Demon Deacons of Wake Forest.
Home of the Tar Heels
One of the most storied basketball arenas in the country, the Dean E. Smith Center serves as one of college basketball’s biggest home court advantages. Home to some of the most memorable Tar Heel basketball games of all time, the “Dean Dome” seats over 21,000 fans any given night. The Smith Center features two levels of seating that include student sections as well as season ticket seating. Carolina’s home court features an outline of the state of North Carolina, and the rafters of the gym house a number of retired numbers and honored Tar Heel alumni, as well as the six NCAA National Championship banners.
Currently sitting in third place in the ACC, Roy Williams’s 2013 squad is now 16-6, including a 6-3 ACC record. Williams, who has accumulated 273 wins in his Carolina tenure, has already brought two national championships back to Chapel Hill. Led by vocal leader and sharpshooter Reggie Bullock, the team has bounced back from some early season adversity is beginning to hit their stride. Sophomores James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston are a big part of the turnaround, leading the team on the inside and behind the three-point arc. Freshman Marcus Paige is also playing some of his best basketball of the year. “My confidence is high as its been all year, and our team’s confidence has been really high too, shown through our balanced scoring.” Other key players, including senior Dexter Strickland, sophomores Desmond Hubert, Jackson Simmons and freshmen Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto, have also added valuable minutes to the ever-evolving rotation of this year’s team.
Tuesday night’s game against conference foe Wake Forest was a must-win contest for Carolina, who’s NCAA Tournament hopes sway on the bubble. The Demon Deacons, who came in ranked 9th in the conference, has been an enigma of a team, playing well enough to beat NC State at home and losing a close contest to Duke and then turning around and dropping games to Georgia Tech and Maryland by over 20 points. Consistently weak on the road, Wake Forest was simply out-manned and out-executed in their visit to Chapel Hill.
Carolina, who capitalized on a barrage of Demon Deacon turnovers, went into half on a 15-1 run and turned a 6-point battle into a 20 point blowout. “A big emphasis going into this game was to not turn the ball over, and obviously we did a terrible job of that, giving up 18 points off of 13 turnovers in the first half, and when you give a team that many baskets, it shatters the confidence of your team,” said Wake Forest Coach Jeff Bzdelik. The final score of 87-62 accurately reflected the dominance that the Tar Heels exhibited in their final home game before a pair of road games. Shooting over 60% in the first half as team, Carolina pulled away early and held the score out of reach for the remainder of the second half. Statistically, junior Reggie Bullock and sophomore James Michael McAdoo carried the team, scoring 23 and 20 points apiece in under 26 minutes to lead the Tar Heels. Sophomore P.J. Hairston, who sat out Saturday’s contest against Virginia Tech, was medically cleared for Tuesday’s game, and his 11 point performance off the bench help land the knockout punch on Wake.
Despite being a mid-week game against a lesser ACC opponent, the game’s attendance of 19,653 showed up with passion. The mixture of alumni ticket holders and student sections in the lower level got the team helped bring the team much-needed energy during the different scoring runs in Tuesday’s game. Sparked by band led music, Tar Heel traditional chants, and the speaker-blaring “Jump Around” track, the crowd remains active and alive throughout the course of the game. The most notable positive change in recent weeks has been the organized cheering of the student section, commonly during opposing free throws. Tuesday’s game against Wake Forest included a group effort to scream and jump in unison during a free throw, and then all sitting down and having a student in a banana student provide a solo dance distraction during the next. The Smith Center crowd came most alive in the game following a spectacular and-one layup finish by freshman Marcus Paige. “I was expecting to make a pass, but I just took it in and got the roll, all my teammates were excited when it when in, especially James Michael, and we are all just a bunch of unselfish players who love to see each other succeed,” said Paige. Even Wake Forest Coach Jeff Bzdelik commented on the effect the crowd played in the contest by paying Carolina fans a high compliment. “There are a lot of things you can’t simulate, you can’t simulate the athleticism and the quickness, you can’t simulate the bright lights, and you certainly can’t simulate the crowd and the moment.”
Stat of the Night
Eleven different players tallied double digit minutes and twelve different players scored in Tuesday’s game, showing the growing balance of the Tar Heel rotation. Of the eleven players who played double digit minutes, not a single one played more than 26 minutes.
Quote of the Game
“We are a little more mature and experienced, but it helps to have everyone healthy too.” – Coach Roy Williams on UNC’s three game win streak despite team injuries and sicknesses.
Carolina will hit the road for three of the next four games, including back-to-back away games at the top two ACC teams, Miami and Duke. Lacking a number of key victories against elite opponents on their résumé, the Tar Heels will have a great opportunity to come away with some season-defining wins in the next two weeks.