CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –– For the sixth game in a row, the 13-3 Tar Heels have brought an undisputed level of defensive intensity to the floor and their ability to do so consistently, has carried them to a 5-0 start to conference play.
Against Syracuse on Saturday, it was no different as they squashed the Orange 103-67 in what’s been an endless highlight reel for the Tar Heels these past couple of weeks.
“We’re getting better defensively,” said head coach Hubert Davis. “It’s something that we’ve identified to allow us to be successful and to be the best team that we can possibly be. It was really right before the Oklahoma game. I spoke to the team and I said, ‘look, like what is required is for us to make a full commitment on the defensive end and rebounding the basketball. If we can defend, if we can take care of basketball that’s gonna put us in position to be able to be successful whomever we play.’ I said it takes a full commitment and from that Oklahoma game it just continues to build.”
North Carolina hasn’t lost since the win over the Sooners and the highlight reel keeps growing as they continue to make strides in the conference. Their ability to completely dismantle opponents has marked an important shift from the level of intensity they lacked earlier on in the season.
UNC led by as many as 39 points at one point in the competition and they also racked up a season-high 53 boards and 58 paint points. Five players scored 10 or more points with senior RJ Davis leading the team in scoring for the 10th time this season with his 22 points.
While this crew hasn’t been together too long, they seem to have everything under control as they trek forward into March. The program added seven newcomers in the offseason, yet they’ve got better chemistry and playmaking skills than most and it’s something that they take pride in.
“Guys are taking pride in their one-on-one individual matchups,” Davis said. “Doing a good job boxing out, we’re rebounding. This is I think the fifth straight game that we’ve outrebounded an opponent. The encouraging thing is how much better I think we can get. We can do a better job defending without fouling and being disciplined on the defensive end. And so I like where we are.”
Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram says this team isn’t “easily rattled,” and their playing style as of late is testament to his words. North Carolina isn’t just beating their opponents. They’re thrashing them. The Tar Heels are averaging 83.8 points per game to stand alone at the top of the ACC and have won four of their last five ACC matchups by 10 or more points.
The cherry on top is that they’ve also made a leap in national standings coming in at No.4 in the AP Top 25 poll.
“I think this year, we’ve really defined everyone’s role and what we need out of everybody to be successful,” Armando Bacot said after the victory.
North Carolina has buckled down on both ends of the court in what has been a historic resurgence, one worthy enough for me to call this team a Final Four contender. And while it might be a bit too early to double down on the predictions, this team has got it and they’ve got it good. The show is bound to continue, and these guys can’t wait to show you what they’ve got.