Fresh off their gritty escape over Providence Friday night, the No. 6 seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team face a formidable challenge in the Iowa State Cyclones, the No. 3 seed, in the Round of 32 Sunday at 5:15 p.m. in San Antonio.
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The Tar Heels have new life. Somehow, they were able to withstand an NCAA Tournament performance for the ages by Providence’s Bryce Cotton to keep dancing.
Head Coach Roy Williams says he was proud of his team’s toughness and resiliency down the stretch Friday night.
“The kids kept fighting. I talked about how tough we have to be the last four minutes. I thought our guys were really tough. They made some big-time plays,” Coach Williams says.
But next up for the Tar Heels are the Iowa State Cyclones, one of the premier offensive units in the country. The Cyclones tore apart the NC Central Eagles in their opening contest, seemingly scoring at will from anywhere on the court.
Sophomore Brice Johnson says it was important for Carolina to reassert its dominance on the glass in their NCAA opener. That will certainly be another key Sunday against IowaState.
“In practice, Coach has been getting on us every day about getting to the glass and getting second chance points. That’s the big thing that he’s been emphasizing that last couple days in practice. That’s the one thing that we wanted to do,” Johnson says.
But the Tar Heels may have caught a lucky break. Cyclone center Georges Niang broke his foot in the NC Central game and has been ruled out for the remainder of the Tournament.
How vital is Niang to the Cyclone offense? He averaged 16.5 points per game and can just as easily pop three-pointers as conduct work around the basket.
Carolina will still need to be at its best Sunday as Iowa State has plenty of other offensive weaponry, including DeAndre Kane. Kane posted 14 points and seven rebounds in the opening game.
The Big 12 Tournament champions opened as a 1-point favorite over the Tar Heels.
Head Coach Roy Williams will be leaning on his star performers to get the Tar Heels to the Sweet Sixteen. He says the leadership of juniors James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige has made his job a lot easier this season.
“Marcus and James Michael are great leaders. They’re leaders by how well they play. They’re leaders by how intelligent they are. They’re leaders by how unselfish they are. But when they say something, the other kids listen to them as well,” Coach Williams says.
A win over Iowa State on Sunday would send Carolina to a 32nd appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, an NCAA record, and book the Tar Heels a trip up to Madison Square Garden next weekend.