North Carolina Hot Streak Jumps to Another Level with Rivalry Win over Duke

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 21, 2014

North Carolina's Brice Johnson rcelebrates following a basket late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Chapel Hill, N.C., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. North Carolina won 74-66. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Snow postponed the game by eight days, but it didn't slow down the Tar Heels as North Carolina pushed its winning streak to eight games on Thursday night with a 74-66 win over arch-rival Duke.

When they are hot, the Tar Heels might be the best team in the country.

And right now, they are liquid hot magma.

Duke had this game in the bag. At halftime, Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo had combined for all of four points. Rodney Hood couldn't miss. With 15 minutes left, the Blue Devils had opened up an 11-point lead.

As is often the case in this rivalry, it didn't matter.

"Loved our guys' composure down the stretch," Roy Williams told reporters after the game. "It was a bunch of guys that really fought really hard, and I couldn't be prouder of my team than I am right now."

The Tar Heels outscored the Blue Devils 34-15 over the final 15 minutes. Paige and McAdoo combined for 19 second-half points while Leslie McDonald had the quietest 21-point game in the history of ACC basketball.

At the other end of the court, Duke simply couldn't buy a bucket. The Blue Devils made 22 of their first 40 shots, but closed out the game by shooting just 5-of-23 from the floor.

Continuing a trend that has pervaded this hot streak, the Tar Heels dominated on the glass. After out-rebounding Duke by a 43-30 margin, they are now plus-70 in rebounding margin over the last eight games. They grabbed 15 offensive rebounds on the night, making this their ninth consecutive game with at least 11 second-chance opportunities.

Feb 20, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) reacts in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Blue Devils 74-66 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Though he struggled in the first half, Paige has been fantastic as of late. Over his last eight games, Paige has scored 17.6 points and added 5.6 assists per game. His shot selection has been much improved as well. Back when he was the team's only long-range threat, Paige shot 34.8 percent from three-point range over North Carolina's first 18 games.

He has made 45.7 percent of his threes during the winning streak.

McDonald has also had a hot hand, averaging 12.0 points over the past eight games, despite shooting just 2-of-16 in the previous two games against Pittsburgh and Florida State.

Frankly, everyone on the team has stepped up his game as of late. Kennedy Meeks has averaged 9.1 points and 7.0 rebounds over the last nine games. Brice Johnson only scored five on Thursday night, but entered the game having scored in double digits in five straight games.

If it's not one Tar Heel, it's another. Where it used to be Paige and McAdoo or bust, North Carolina suddenly has six guys who can beat you on any given night.

Once 1-4 in ACC play and sitting perilously on the bubble, the Tar Heels are now in sole possession of fourth place in the conference and are a mortal lock for the tournament.

Is it finally time to believe in North Carolina?

It was one thing when the Tar Heels were beating up on Clemson and North Carolina State, but wins over Pittsburgh and Duke are a different animal.

You may have heard that Roy Williams' squad entered the game with three of the best wins in the country (vs. Kentucky, vs. Louisville and at Michigan State) as well as four embarrassing losses (vs. Belmont, at UAB, vs. Miami and at Wake Forest).

What exactly are we to do with that information? Pretend it never happened and focus solely on the here and now? After all, we're less than a month away from being forced to decide how many consecutive games the Tar Heels are capable of winning.

The NCAA tournament is all about getting hot at the right time. Regardless of what happened in the first two months of the season, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who would argue that the Tar Heels aren't one of the five hottest teams right now.

Perhaps they'll lose to Wake Forest on Saturday and send us right back to square one.

But until further notice, I'm buying what the Tar Heels are selling.

All game stats are courtesy of  

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.


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