Carolina’s best game of the season could not have come at a better time.
It was the first truly packed house of the season at the Smith Center.
It was a rematch of last year’s National Championship game, even if there was very little in common between the two games. As ESPN’s Dana O’Neil put it, “North Carolina had little left over but its uniforms,” from that April 6 thrashing at Ford Field.
(She forgot about a Hall of Fame coach, but we’ll forgive her on this one occasion.)
It was a national television audience for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, complete with yours truly making a very brief appearance on ESPN from the student section.
The Tar Heels won 89-82 over the Michigan State Spartans in the first game this season where they’ve truly looked like a Carolina Basketball team that we’ve come to expect in the Roy Williams era, pushing the tempo, driving to the hoop, working the ball inside.
There’s still room to grow. There were 17 turnovers, and a 50-34 halftime advantage slowly eroded to as little as six points at times late in the second half.
More importantly, though, there WAS growth. Freshmen John Henson, Dexter Strickland, and Wear One and Wear Two (I’m still working on it) assembled an 11-2 run to put the Tar Heels ahead 30-21 in the first half. The team as a whole, as I mentioned, was much faster, much more comfortable, and, quite simply, much better than any other game this season.
Ed Davis and Larry Drew both had career-high scoring efforts of 22 and 18 points, respectively. Michigan State was held to 2-20 from beyond the arc, including an 0-7 performance from three-point territory in the first half.
Not that I ever doubted us…
Nonetheless, there is little time for celebration (although Wisconsin did manage to add to my jubilation last night). Saturday, our annual meeting with #5/4 Kentucky comes with a little extra anticipation, as the new-look Wildcats, with John Calipari and John Wall and all the media attention that encompasses playing host to North Carolina.
Okay, maybe a little celebration won’t hurt anyone.