North Carolina has had an up-and-down season to say the least. Ranked 12th in the AP's preseason poll, the Tar Heels have been in and out of the rankings since November after shocking losses but also have stunning wins over five ranked teams.
After capping off a nine-game winning streak Saturday, including a dramatic win over No. 5 Duke, North Carolina shows potential to be a serious threat come March.
One thing is for certain when it comes to the Tar Heels, the team always shows up for big games. Rising from being forgotten in the ACC after an 0-3 start, North Carolina is back in the polls at No. 19 and shows no signs of slowing down. Click the slideshow below for a recap of the biggest wins for the Tar Heels in the 2013-14 season.
In the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament, then-No. 24 North Carolina celebrated a huge upset over then-No. 3 Louisville, 93-84. Led by Marcus Paige—who scored 32 points, a career high for the second straight day of the tournament—the Tar Heels snapped Louisville’s 21-game winning streak. Louisville had not lost since Feb. 9, 2013, when it dropped a five-overtime thriller to Notre Dame.
What was even more shocking about the victory was the fact that the Tar Heels had been upset by Belmont seven days before in their first loss to an unranked nonconference opponent at home since Feb. 2002.
But as Marcus Paige said, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN), “We wanted to come here with the mindset that we can change our season and get back in the right mind frame that we’re one of the best teams in the country if we play together and hard.”
After a confusing loss to unranked UAB on Dec. 1, North Carolina shocked once again days later when the Tar Heels took down then-No. 1 Michigan State, showing potential once again with a 79-65 victory over the Spartans. Michigan State hadn’t lost to an unranked nonconference team at home in over a decade.
North Carolina was led by J.P. Tokoto, who had 12 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, helping the Tar Heels out-rebound the Spartans by 11, leading to 19 second-chance points. The Tar Heels responded by turning 14 of Michigan State’s turnovers into 19 points to hold the Spartans to 36 percent shooting.
“I truly believe after the Louisville win, our mentality after that was, ‘Birmingham is just going to be an automatic win. Just because we’re North Carolina,” said Tokoto, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). “We can’t have that mentality—and kind of learned that Sunday night.”
The win marked North Carolina’s first time beating a No. 1-ranked team since March 4, 2006 when the Tar Heels took down Duke.
The Tar Heels continued on a ranked-team takedown on Dec. 14 with a win over then-No. 11 Kentucky, 82-77, giving North Carolina a 3-0 record over ranked opponents at that point in the season. Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo each topped 20 points in the matchup. Despite missing 19 free throws and seeing the Wildcats swat seven of their shots, the Tar Heels managed to come away with the victory over the Wildcats.
At the time, UNC’s 82 points and 48 percent shooting were the most by a Kentucky opponent all season, showing serious aggression from the start until the Wildcats couldn’t contend. This win, although shaky at times, proved that North Carolina always shows up for big games.
In a much-anticipated rival showdown, North Carolina put on a show against No. 5 Duke in front of an electric crowd brought to its feet at the Smith Center on Feb. 20. Marcus Paige provided the game-changing play to put the Tar Heels up four points with 90 seconds left, sealing UNC’s comeback from an 11-point second-half deficit for the 74-66 win.
“I played in Cameron last year when they went on their run,” Paige said, according to Luke Decock in the News & Observer. “Played at Michigan State. But that crowd tonight was the most crazy. I might be a little biased, honestly. When we took the lead when the game was in the 60s, it was unbelievable.”
The rally from UNC fans in the Smith Center not only carried the Tar Heels to victory, but also ignited the fanbase to believe in the thriving rivalry once more, and Duke just couldn’t hang.
“We just didn’t respond to it,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, according to Decock. “The crowd, the team, the intensity. We just couldn’t match it. That’s why they won.”
North Carolina was looking for some payback after an embarrassing conference loss to Wake Forest in January that began the 0-3 downward spiral. A completely different UNC team took the court on Feb. 22 as the Tar Heels carried momentum from the win over Duke (which ended just 36 hours before tipoff) into the 105-72 annihilation of the Demon Deacons. The win makes sense given the Tar Heels’ performance over the Blue Devils, but it’s also proof that the team is maturing and building.
“We know we are a good basketball team that can compete with anyone in the country, and that’s enough for us. As long as we know that, it doesn’t matter where other people have us ranked. We know when we step on the court we have a chance to win,” Paige said, according to C.L. Brown of ESPN.
The win over Wake Forest also marks the Tar Heels’ ninth win in a row and 20th win for the 41st time in 44 seasons. Freshman Kennedy Meeks contributed 15 points for UNC, which never let Wake Forest get closer than 13 on the way to its best scoring output all year.