“It’s a long season. You can’t just say, ‘Oh gosh, let’s catch our breath. That’s really good.’ Bottom line is, it’s near the end of the season, and we’ve got to keep playing.”
Four more. The finish line is in sight for Roy’s boys. But the run of nine straight victories isn’t satisfying enough for this team. Roy’s not allowing it. The players don’t mind.
Granted, these battle-tested Tar Heels were understandably hobbling Saturday following the Wake Forest game, their fourth win in eight days. Physically, that is. Mentally, it was another story altogether.
Their minds were as fresh as ever – pointing to the future with determined vigor. Surprisingly, the players weren’t basking in the glory of their recent accomplishments. Heck, I wouldn’t have blamed them if they did.
The Tar Heels had an all-star week worthy of the highest praise. A stunning rally in Tallahassee. A winning fight for Tobacco Road. A glorious, revenge-minded rout of an in-state rival.
It was a stunning span. But nope. These Tar Heels were looking to the future with clear, excited eyes.
These young men are doing it in myriad ways out on the court. But for now, the end result is appearing secure – a win.
The confidence of the sprinting Tar Heels is rooted in toughness (I refuse to say that phrase “sense of urgency” any longer, forgive me) and a deepening faith in defense.
We’ve all heard the old adage- “the best defense is a good offense.” Well, for this year’s Tar Heels, it’s flipped – the best offense is a good defense.
“Coach stresses that we just got to keep toughing through things. If offensively we don’t have it, we’re always going to have it defensively. I think that’s where most of our offense comes from,” sophomore J.P. Tokoto says.
Never was this philosophy more on display than in the Duke contest last Thursday. Carolina was trailing by double digits to a No. 5 ranked Blue Devil squad with prolific perimeter shooters to boot.
Carolina couldn’t buy a basket for extended stretches, and couldn’t even hit a free throw to save themselves, to the groans of a Smith Center crowd desperate to work themselves into a frenzy.
Well, the frenzy would come. The defense delivered it to the fans and took it to Duke. The Tar Heels dug in with a stone-wall determination that was a sight to behold, stymieing the Blue Devil attack.
But defense aside (and maybe even more significantly), it has become increasingly clear that this Carolina squad isn’t ready to cash in on their success. No, they want to keep all their chips out on the table. They’re hungry for more, ravenous even. Just ask Marcus Paige.
“It’s a happy locker room right now. I think the fact that we are winning is making us hungrier to continue that. We’ve got a little taste of continued success. We want to keep that going,” Paige says.
Carolina has rounded the final turn. The finish line is within sight. Their eyes are fixed on the prize. The pace is quickening. But the Tar Heels are resolute. They know the job is not done. They know they’ve still got some competitors to pass on the home stretch.