5 Things We Learned from North Carolina's Win over Providence

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2014

5 Things We Learned from North Carolina's Win over Providence

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    North Carolina survived its hard-fought battle against Big East tournament champion Providence, 79-77. 

    The Tar Heels had to come from seven points down with 4:36 to go. Sophomore guard Marcus Paige hit a huge three-pointer with a little over a minute to go to tie the game at 77.

    Junior forward James Michael McAdoo hit two free throws in the closing seconds to secure the W and help UNC advance to play Iowa State in round of 32 action on Sunday.

    Here are a few things we learned from North Carolina's victory on Friday in San Antonio:

    Player information and stats, unless otherwise noted, provided by ESPN.com

5. Providence's Bryce Cotton Is Amazing

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Providence guard Bryce Cotton put on a clinic in Friday's game against UNC.

    He scored a career-high 36 points, grabbed five rebounds, handed out eight assists and pinched two steals while playing all 40 minutes.

    Cotton's performance was so good that his North Carolina counterpart, Marcus Paige, tweeted

    Also shoutout to Bryce Cotton. Gotta give respect where it's due. What a game.

    Creighton All-American forward Doug McDermott joined Paige by tweeting his own acknowledgement of Cotton's excellent performance over the last four years:

    Congrats to Providence on a great season and to Bryce Cotton on an unbelievable career.

    It is uber-meaningful when the players you face and those who simply play the game go out of their way to show respect.

    More than simply having an exceptional single game, Cotton has had a fantastic four-year career for the Friars. In 130 games, he scored 1975 points, grabbed 368 rebounds and dished out 384 assists (H/T SportsReference.com).

4. J.P. Tokoto Is More Than an Insane Dunker

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    More than just being a human highlight reel (h/t GoHeels.com), sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto is a valued contributor to this Tar Heel team.

    Because of his anticipation and athleticism, Tokoto is becoming a skilled defender, leading the team in steals (53). It is very possible that he will draw the assignment of keeping Iowa State's multi-talented combo guard DeAndre Kane in check.

    Tokoto is also an underrated perimeter playmaker, dishing out nearly 4 APG in the last five games and 3.1 APG for the season.

    In Friday's game against Providence, he showed his versatility by scoring 10 points, pulling down four boards, handing out six assists and pinching three steals.

3. Good Things Happen When Brice Johnson Is on the Court

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    North Carolina's Brice Johnson plays a pivotal role on this Tar Heel team.

    Coming off the bench, Johnson provides instant energy and, usually, instant production.

    On the year, he is averaging 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Against Providence, the 6'9" sophomore poured in 16 points (on 7-of-11 shooting), grabbed eight rebounds and blocked 4 shots.

    Two of those blocked shots came in the last three-and-a-half minutes of the game. The Daily Tar Heels' Brooke Pryor captured J.P. Tokoto's perspective on Johnson's key defensive plays: "If he didn't have those two blocks and they scored, the game would have been different. He's a big part of this team moving on."

    Inside Carolina's Sherrell McMillan thinks that Johnson could be ready for another standout performance in the round of 32 against Iowa State. She tweeted: "Iowa State is Brice Johnson's chance to really shine. Great matchup for him."

    Johnson's opportunity may have gotten even bigger since one of Iowa State's key frontcourt players, Georges Niang, broke his foot in the Cyclones' opening-game win over North Carolina Central.

2. James Michael McAdoo Can Hit Pressure FTs

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo has struggled from the line all year.

    He has only hit 53.6 percent of his free throws this season, which is a lower percentage than he did as either a freshman (63.8) or a sophomore (57.8).

    However, over the last three games, JMM has been finding the range with his freebies, hitting 14-of-19 (73.6 percent).

    None were bigger than the two he hit in the closing seconds of North Carolina's opening-game victory against Providence.

    Without McAdoo hitting those attempts, the game would have gone into overtime.

    This improvement is not a random coincidence. GoHeels.com's Adam Lucas tells how McAdoo has been putting in some significant extra time outside of practice to shoot better when he gets the opportunity to go to the free-throw line.

    Lucas also shared what took place right before McAdoo shot the crucial free throws against the Friars:

    Marcus Paige, who had made two enormous three-pointers in the final 90 seconds, knew he wanted to take McAdoo's mind off the fact that he was essentially shooting for Carolina's season, but wasn't sure exactly what to say. He ultimately decided his best choice was simply to tell McAdoo the truth. Paige, clearly the best free throw shooter on the team, knew. He'd seen all the extra shots.

    "All those thousands of extra free throws you've shot, they're about to pay off," Paige told McAdoo.

    Those will not be the last important free throws McAdoo takes this season. Hopefully, he will have the same confidence and get the same results when those chances come.

1. Marcus Paige Is the Heels' Go-To Guy

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    Associated Press

    If North Carolina needs a bucket at the end of a half or the end of the game, there is no question that Marcus Paige is the Heels' go-to guy.

    The sophomore point guard has been knocking down clutch shots all year long, and he did it against on Friday against Providence.

    His three-point basket with a little over a minute to play tied the game and rocked the Friars back on their heels for the last moments of this contest.

    Momentum officially shifted to UNC with that timely trey.

    Because Paige does a great job of creating his own looks, North Carolina coach Roy Williams has no hesitation about putting the ball in his floor leader's hands when the game is on the line.