Texas Longhorns 78, North Carolina Tar Heels 76
Getting a win on the road in North Carolina’s backyard is never an easy task, especially when the quick whistles decimate the only true offensive threat in your frontcourt.
When Tristan Thompson picked up his second foul just minutes into the game, the complexion of the contest totally changed. Up until that point, Texas looked poise to run the Heels right out of the gym. Joseph, Brown, and Hamilton were getting in the paint with impunity, but without a credible threat on the interior the Tar Heels were able to chip away at the Horns and take the lead going into halftime.
Credit interior fill-ins Matt Hill and especially Alexis Wangmene for holding down the fort allowing the Horns to maintain contact until the very end.
Some pick and roll magic capped off by a Cory Joseph dagger, and the Horns walked away with a very satisfying W in a very hostile environment—I’m looking at you Karl Hess.
This is one of the best jobs in terms of game specific coaching I’ve seen from Rick Barnes. He’s always made his money through instilling toughness and mental preparation, but X’s and O’s wise Coach Barnes was a star yesterday. The devil is is often in the details and yesterday it appeared Rick had sold his soul. The game plan was meticulous, the scouting reports dead-on accurate.
I figured Texas would need a faster pace to manage the bigger UNC frontcourt and help keep their own offense from stagnating. What I didn’t figure on was Barnes pushing pace specifically when Carolina’s interior bell-cow Tyler Zeller was in the game. With Zeller in, Barnes showed some token full court pressure and had his guards push the ball up the floor make or miss. Early on this strategy ran the Heels off of the boards and away from their strengths—that is until Thompson landed on the bench. Later in the contest, this strategy paid dividends with a fatigued Zeller who was easily bodied off his spot by Wangmene.
When Zeller was on the bench, Texas played at a more deliberate pace because they didn’t have to worry about being mashed on the interior. The result was some smothering halfcourt defense which would have helped the Longhorns build a lead had the Horns hit some bunnies on the offensive end.
More details? Rick’s Offense to Defense substitution was perfect down the stretch. His two timeouts called to stop UNC runs seemed out of character for Rick, but they were badly needed in this game. Keep in mind Barnes had a patchwork frontcourt on the floor for over half of the game so to say he was using the coaching version of smoke and mirrors would be a fair characterization. Coach even stole some minutes for Thompson with a zone, even if it happened to be ineffective. It was real, honest to goodness game-day coaching and I appreciated it. The only thing missing was a junk defense and Jimmy Valvano hugging Dereck Whittenburg as we ran off the floor victoriously.
Cory Joseph. A.
Seems obvious given the game winner at the end, but Joseph operated our screen and roll package to near perfection in the last five minutes of the game. I’ve always said Joseph wasn’t the classic blow-by guy, he needs a bump to get space, but that’s perfectly okay in the right sets. Joseph is so good at using his upper body to create driving lanes once he gets a crack off that ball screen and his shooting credibility makes it impossible to defend Joseph under the screen. He’s a nightmare off the bump and it will pay dividends for Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson when teams start to double and then rotate our ball screen game. In terms of confidence, this was a huge ballgame for Cory especially when you juxtapose yesterday’s ending with that nightmare vs. Pitt. CoJo was 8-14 with zero turnovers. Think about that.
Jordan Hamilton. A.
He gave us what he needs to give us night in and night out—star power. Hamilton is a beast so you live with the occasional heat check knowing he can go for 12 points in a three minute span. He’s also your best rebounder pound for pound. Defensively, he still gets lost away from the ball evidenced by Harrison’s Barnes’ 3 cutting layups. On the ball, he gave Barnes way too much shot credibility, bodying the talented freshman 22 feet from the bucket. But at least J-Ham is trying. I prescribe a 1,000 defensive slides and some four man shell work. Change nothing offensively.
Alexis Wangmene. A.
He’s your unsung player of the game. Alexi continually rode Zeller off his spot and stoned the UNC big when he did catch the ball in scoring position. His length/strength combination is unique, and he’ll help us against the bigger frontcourts of Kansas and Kansas State. Offensively, Alexis is what he is, but he’ll need to start finishing from point blank range to take the next step. I suspect that happens with more floor time.
J’Covan Brown. C.
Lack of self-awareness is a double edge sword. When time and score situations align with this type of mental insulation it works. See the two clutch foul shots to help seal the game. When it doesn’t lineup, you clank a 3 pointer early in a shot clock that contributes to a Carolina run or you dot someone with your elbow and blow a late first half lead. Same song different verse for J’headcase. He needs to find a governor for his emotions without losing that confident edge because his skill is unquestioned.
Tristan Thompson. B.
I thought 2 of his 4 fouls were bad calls especially in the context of how the rest of the game was called. Had TT been allowed to play, he would have put up 20 and 10 if the last 5 minutes was any indication. He was too strong for Henson and too athletic for Zeller. Plus, the Texas guards were getting into the paint with regularity so Tristan would have had plenty of opportunities.
Matt Hill. C+.
Hill gives you 5 big fouls to work with and he did exactly that. Hill isn’t big or athletic enough to board with frontcourts like UNC, but damn if he didn’t battle.
Gary Johnson. C.
He missed a bunch of shots he normally hits which would have made his grade much better. The matchup against a huge interior didn’t do Gary any favors either, especially from a rebounding standpoint. He’ll be okay given the right matchups and provided Thompson can stay on the floor to guarantee a faster tempo, which leads me to Dogus Balbay.
Dogus Balbay. B.
Speaking of faster tempo, we’ve said all along that Doge needs a faster pace and an open floor to be affective. This creates sort of a symbiotic relationship with Tristan Thompson. The correct term may even be parasitic but I’m tring to be nice. Balbay can’t be on the floor with Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene in the game for two reasons. A) we can’t run efficiently with Hill and Wangmene and B) we can’t afford 3 nonfactors on offense in a halfcourt setting since we can’t run. So when Thompson got in foul trouble, this limited Balbay’s minutes. Again I blame Karl Hess.
As for the win, as cliched as it sound, this was a total team effort. Thank goodness our kids and coaches powered through all the adversity. That’s what makes this win so satisfying.