North Carolina was outscored by 30 points in the second half of its first four ACC games.
On Wednesday, the Tar Heels reversed that trend with an improved sense of urgency in their 79-63 win over Georgia Tech. Virginia outscored UNC by 17 points over the final 17 minutes, Miami utilized a 17-7 run over the final nine minutes to secure a victory at the Smith Center and, on Saturday, Maryland prevented a blowout with a 32-20 edge in the second half against a sluggish Tar Heel squad.
Even Florida State shot lights out from 3-point range (6-of-11) during the second half until UNC turned off the scoreboard with four minutes and change left. The bright spot in Tallahassee notwithstanding, North Carolina allowed its first four conference opponents to shoot a combined 48.6 percent from the floor (51-of-105) in the second half, including a 43.2 percent effort from behind the arc (16-of-37).
The Yellow Jackets were not quite as opportunistic. Yes, the Ramblin' Wreck is statistically the worst shooting team in the ACC (41.9), but UNC held its opponent to 38.9 percent (14-of-36) after halftime. More importantly, the Tar Heels were effective out of the break on both ends, holding Georgia Tech to one made field goal and forcing two turnovers in its first five possessions while also scoring nine points on their first five possessions.
Junior wing Reggie Bullock (17 points) opened the second half with an old-fashioned three-point play off an offensive rebound and putback, and McAdoo replicated that effort on the next possession.
Three possessions later, UNC had built a 49-34 lead. Georgia Tech would not get any closer than 11 points the rest of the game. When asked if he saw any similarities between his team's second half play against Maryland and its effort against Georgia Tech, UNC head coach Roy Williams said no and likened Saturday's performance to a special showing of Michael Jackson's “Thriller” video.
“We looked like we were all dead walking around out there,” Williams said during his postgame press conference. That wasn't the case on Wednesday.
“Coach mentioned to us today about how when we played Maryland we were great in the first half and then the second half we kind of fell off,” senior guard Dexter Strickland said. “He was saying it's very important for us to bring that sense of urgency today in the second half. I think our guys did a great job at it.”
UNC's defense spurred the early second-half run. The Tar Heels scored eight points off turnovers and added eight points in transition over the final 20 minutes.
“We were more active in the second half than we came out in the Maryland game and that was the main thing we focused on,” sophomore guard P.J. Hairston said. “We got a lot of deflections, got run outs and fast breaks.”
North Carolina was also more effective on the glass. After pulling down four offensive rebounds in the first half, the Tar Heels grabbed four on their first four possessions of the second half. UNC scored eight of its 10 points off offensive rebounds after halftime and outrebounded Georgia Tech, 24-21, including a 9-8 edge on the offensive glass.
“In the first half, they definitely beat us out [on the boards],” McAdoo said. “But that's something that we came in at halftime and refocused on. I feel like we were able to play a little bit better on the boards in the second half.”
The Tar Heels, of course, weren't flawless in the second half, but their effort represented a notable shift from how they've played thus far in ACC competition.