Heels look to regain intensity

North Carolina has won its last three games by a total of seven points. The silver lining is it acknowledges that the Tar Heels have gotten better at winning close games, and their confidence in late-game situations can grow from it.

Freshman guard Nate Britt said they don’t want to become overly dependent on trying to win late.

“That’s good to know [that we can], but I don’t think we want to take that chance too many more times,” Britt said.

Britt said the Heels still have work to do.

Their 12-game winning streak is the longest since the 2008-09 national title team reeled off 13 consecutive victories. But they have now had three straight close shaves against teams with losing records in league play (NC State 8-9, Notre Dame 6-12, Virginia Tech 2-14).

“That’s three or four in a row against teams we are capable of beating by a better margin than we have,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “And that’s no knock on them, but we’ve been playing really well lately. If we have big goals and dreams, we can’t have all these sluggish games. We’ve been fortunate to be on the winning side on all of them, so it’s not too big of a concern.”

Sophomore forward Brice Johnson said the Heels have had a tendency to lose focus in the middle of games. Against the Irish, that meant no longer pounding the ball inside, which is what helped get them a 15-point lead in the first half.

“We were doing well, then all of a sudden we were going away from what we do well,” Johnson said. “On the defensive end we weren’t paying attention to detail and stuff like that. … The pick-and-rolls really hurt us. We just have to go back and re-evaluate what we need to do. We have to keep it going from the first half to the second half.”

Aside from executing, the Heels just seemed to lack desire at times. Coach Roy Williams said after Monday’s 63-61 win over Notre Dame that the team was more intense during its last practice than it was during the game.

The stat that most reveals their lapse was in second-chance points. The Heels used six offensive rebounds for 12 second-chance points in the first half against the Irish. They didn’t have any second-chance baskets in the second half.

“We’ve talked about the need to pick it up, especially the intensity level the last few games. That’s just something we’re trying to work on right now,” Britt said. “The last games have been close and we could have played a whole lot better.”