Why can’t they play like that all the time?
The Tar Heels’ performance on Sunday against Clemson begged the question. And they’ve been both puzzling and frustrating this season trying to find an answer. The obvious difference in play came from North Carolina’s effort.
“It’s a positive feeling around the locker room right now,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “Why wouldn’t you want to do that every game instead of having a letup?”
But effort alone won't allow Carolina to continue the offensive success it had against Clemson. The Heels don't have an offensive talent who can take the ball and break down a defense with one-on-one moves. They need screens set. They need ball movement. They need help to score.
For a team that’s been offensively challenged at times this season, the Heels found out what happens when they share the ball. They shot more than 50 percent in both halves for just the third time this season (also vs. Louisville and Boston College).
Carolina reached 19 assists for just the sixth time this season. In each of those games (Oakland, UNC Greensboro, Davidson, UNC Wilmington, Boston College, Clemson) with at least 19 assists -- all wins -- the Heels also scored at least 80 points.
UNC coach Roy Williams also used a starting lineup that included freshman center Kennedy Meeks and senior shooting guard Leslie McDonald. It was just the third start for both players this season and the first time they were in the same starting lineup.
Williams might have found a starting lineup he can stick with long term. The Tar Heels' ball movement was crisp from the outset, with all five starters scoring one basket to account for UNC's first 10 points.
Meeks reached double figures for his third straight game and added a team-high eight rebounds. McDonald broke out of a shooting slump and finished with 12 points.
“I came out here just knowing I was going to play my game, play within the offense and be a little bit more patient,” McDonald said.
Say what you will about the Tigers, considering their lifetime losing streak in Chapel Hill, but they’ve generally been a good defensive team all season. They held Duke to a season-low 33.9 percent shooting in an upset win earlier this month.
Clemson led the nation in scoring defense (54.8 points per game) and was fourth nationally in 3-point percentage defense (26.3) at the start of last week.
“I thought we would rally defensively and we just never did, and some of that’s credit to North Carolina,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “... They moved the ball, their guys got into a rhythm and they’re a talented team when they’re moving it like they did [Sunday].”