Saturday afternoon, the North Carolina Tar Heels held off the Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels, 79-73, as they dominated the first 15 minutes of the game before surrendering the lead and then eventually pulling away late for the win. The following are five key ways that the Heels were decisive in the win.
1.) North Carolina scored 13 points off 11 UNLV turnovers in the first half; 18 off 17 turnovers for the game. UNLV was stagnant and not moving on offense early and it allowed the Tar Heels to set the pace for the game. P.J. Hairston nailed a three late in the first to give the Tar Heels a 34-20 margin.
“They beat us up last year,” noted UNC senior Dexter Strickland of The Rebels’ 90-80 victory in Las vegas last season, “We felt like we had a great chance to reverse that and I just think that we came out with energy and ready to play, we did what Coach wanted. Coach was hyped up about the game and so were we.”
2.) Vegas out-rebounded UNC, 38-33 for the game. The key was North Carolina’s ability to score off the offensive glass. The Tar Heels scored 14 points 11 offensive boards. The key was the 10 points off seven boards in the first as Brice Johnson and Hairston had four each. Consequently the lead belonged to the Tar Heels, 39-30, at the break.
“They were aggressive,” Nevada-Las Vegas coach Dave Rice, “We talked in a timeout about driving the ball directly to the basket, and once we did that we settled down and did a much better job. We started the game and were not nearly as aggressive as we needed to be.”
3.) The free throw line was a nightmare for both teams, but the most glaring was late in the game for the Runnin’ Rebels who missed six between 5:18 and the 30-second mark in the game. This was a surprise as UNLV shot 72.2% from the stripe on the year coming into the contest.
“We usually shoot free throws well, but this is all a learning process and we will all get better from it,” commented Rice on the team’s youth as six freshmen and sophomores saw action and figure in the UNLV rotation.
4.) The Runnin’ Rebs defend at a 37.1% clip and allow only 63.1 ppg. Saturday, they had trouble with North Carolina’s dribble penetration and help side defense as they generally didn’t rotate quickly enough thus North Carolina had driving lanes. UNC shot 50.9% from the floor in scoring 79 points as they shot 53.1% in the first half.
“We played the best defense we we’ve played all year long in the first half today,” said North Carolina’s Roy Williams, “Their last two possessions were two threes in the first half. One, which we shouldn’t have given them the opportunity, [was] when Marcus (Paige) tried to throw the length of the court pass.”
5.) The one great defensive stand for the Rebels actually blew up in their face late in the game. Katin Reinhardt had just nailed one of his four triples with 2:11 to play to cut the Tar Heels lead to 72-68. Vegas pressured the front of the perimeter perfectly on the next Tar Heels possession. Dexter Strickland launched from the free throw line with one second left on the clock and it shoved UNLV into a corner it couldn’t get out of. It was Carolina’s last field goal as they made four of six free throws to ice the 79-73 win.
“We played with such a sense of urgency on the defensive end,” said Hairston, who was one of five Tar Heels in double figures with 15 points, “We were attacking them on the defensive end, making them turnover the ball. We were doing the little things as far as taking charges, getting to the loose balls, scrapping, boxing out, and doing everything it took to win.”
- Ken Cross
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