CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina knew it was capable of a performance like Sunday’s 80-61 beatdown of Clemson. The Tar Heels just needed a reminder.
So coach Roy Williams had a video spliced together of clips from wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky and showed it to his team on Saturday. Carolina’s problem all season has been trying to sustain the urgency and effort that it showed in those nonconference games. The Heels finally revisited it against Clemson.
Williams doesn't have a formula to ensure they continue to play with such urgency, but he knows they can’t win without it.
“We have no chance if we don’t do that,” Williams said. “I’ve had some teams that were gifted and could win without their best effort. This is a team that really needs to have that maximum effort.”
The win over Clemson had little to do with any technical changes Williams made. He didn’t all of a sudden press more or use zone or come up with a new offensive set that the Tigers weren’t prepared to face.
The Heels simply ran to recover defensively on picks a little faster and tried for rebounds a little harder and competed a little bit better than they have for any game since the new year began. That’s something the Heels can do no matter the opponent.
“They played with much more competitive spirit than I’ve seen on them in some other games,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.
Williams said he didn’t mention Carolina’s absurd home winning streak against Clemson, which now stands at 57-0, while his team prepared for Sunday’s game.
Truthfully, the streak did have a little something to do with why the Heels played with an added bounce.
“We definitely didn’t want to be that team to let the streak go down,” forward James Michael McAdoo said. “Definitely just came down to playing with pride. We didn’t talk about it that much but in the back of our heads we knew that we weren’t going to be that team today.”
Since Carolina's loss to Virginia on Monday, Williams spent the week of practice preaching urgency. He had the team watch a montage from its three best wins that showed times where players dove to the floor for a loose ball; or crashed the boards for offensive rebounds; or did something as simple as making the proper rotation on defense.
“It’s almost like you forget about it, but you look back and we beat some really talented teams,” said sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who had 15 points and five assists. “We kind of just went back to remind us that we can be really good if we invest.”
The Heels showed they were all in early.
If there was ever a game to go through the motions it was this one. The Tigers have been coming to Chapel Hill to play Carolina since 1926 and have never left with a victory. No one would have questioned it had the Heels come out with little emotion given the opponent.
McAdoo, who scored a game-high 22 points with seven rebounds, proved early North Carolina’s effort would be different. On a Paige missed jumper, McAdoo dove on the floor to corral the long rebound and called timeout as Clemson players surrounded him. Coming out of the timeout, Nate Britt hit a 3-pointer to extend the Heels' lead to 15.
Hustle was contagious as J.P. Tokoto started a fast break by also diving to the floor for a loose ball. Although Leslie McDonald missed a 3-point attempt in transition, Kennedy Meeks was there for the offensive rebound and even grabbed his own miss before converting.
“You talk about winning basketball plays, when James Michael tonight dives on the floor and gets us an extra possession, when J.P. dives on the floor in the first half -- those are winning plays,” Paige said. “They showed us that when we make those, and we have a conscious effort to make those, everything goes a lot more smoothly.”
The Heels (12-7, 2-4 ACC) caught a break in their schedule too. Their next four games come against teams with losing records in the ACC, starting with Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
If Carolina needs another reminder moving forward, Williams can show clips from the Clemson game as a standard of effort.
McDonald, who started for just the third time this season, said the Clemson game should be the “primary example of what we should do every game.”
“We visually see what this high level of intensity and sense of urgency can do for our team,” said McDonald, who ended his slump with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting. “It can really help us so we just need to feed off it.”