First of all, Ty Lawson has told Andy Katz following the game last night that he is playing on Saturday:
Carolina nation can exhale. Ty Lawson will play Saturday at Kentucky.
“I’m definitely playing Saturday,” Lawson said late Wednesday night after the Tar Heels’ 66-55 win over Ohio State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Lawson said he could have played against the Buckeyes, but moving laterally on defense was still an issue during the day. So, he said, with some more time off and a bit more ice, he’ll be good to go.
So, it seems that’s the end of North Carolina’s experiment of playing without their jet-quick point guard. And, while it wasn’t done on purpose, the No. 2-ranked Tar Heels are certainly better off for going through the exercise.
Of course Lawson is not the final say on the issue and UNC has said as much this morning according to 850 the Buzz.
As I have indicated, I am not crazy about pressing the issue. UK is beset by injuries and should be a game the Heels win without too much trouble. UNC then plays Penn on December 4th followed by a 12 day exam break. I think the Heels can get by without him and then he gets almost two weeks to make sure it is 100% before playing Rutgers.
Concerning the game, Katz noted that this stretch of two games without Lawson could end up being huge.
This win, coupled with the Tar Heels’ 73-63 victory over BYU last Saturday in Las Vegas in which Lawson played only two minutes because of the rolled right ankle, may end up being two of the most significant wins for the Tar Heels.
I agree. These two wins are far more beneficial the way they transpired than they might have been had UNC breezed through them. The Heels found out they are wholly capable of shutting opposing teams down with defense. The question remains as to whether this team can play with optimal offensive execution and the kind of defense they played against BYU and Ohio State. It is possible these two games become the watershed moment where UNC finds it’s defensive game and takes a step up to being a complete team. Time will tell where that is concerned.
Another positive that really stuck out to me was how the Heels did adjust on offense to various facets of the scoring going down the tubes. It is difficult to call a 38% shooting night anything positive in terms of offense but UNC took what the Buckeyes gave them. I touched on this in my initial analysis but it bears repeating and that is the way UNC handled the OSU zone speaks volumes on how far this team has come from a year ago. Last season the Heels lost to Gonzaga in a game very similar to this one. The Bulldogs had the Heels schemed correctly on defense with a zone that blocked access to Hansbrough and kept him frustrated all night with a taller opposing center. Hansbrough had only five shots and UNC chose to shoot 26 times from beyond the arc on their way to a close loss where they played poorly defense and never found an offense.
Fast forward a year where UNC faces a similar situation with a team packing a zone and using a larger center to trouble Hansbrough. This time UNC does a much better job in solving the zone. You can credit coaching for this but also the players for exuding patience in a high pressure game on a hostile court. Whereas last season Hansbrough shot the ball five times, this season they found him for 19 shots. The only downside was he was not shooting well and Ohio State did a good job of contesting his shots. The difference maker was Deon Thompson who hit 7-12 and took advantage of the hole in the middle of the zone to get some open looks. The decision to move a Tar Heel player into the middle of the zone was paramount to overcoming it since it was not going to via penetration without Lawson and UNC wisely decided not to simply bomb threes all night in hopes they would make enough to entice OSU in another defensive set. UNC attempted 18 threes which is average for them this season and five of those belonged to Bobby Frasor who was left open and hoping one or two would fall to keep the defense honest.
The point is UNC showed their experience and maturity out there playing a team that had won 28 straight home games coming into this one. The Heels played with composure and did a great job not forcing the issue in the face of a difficult defensive set. For the most part the Heels made good decisions with the basketball as evidenced by the limited number of turnovers(11) In the end it was about sitting back and waiting for the right opporunities Had UNC made more of their open looks, this game would have been a blowout but sometimes the shots do not fall. The question for a team who has sights on a national championship is how they weather the games when the shots do not fall, a key player or two is off their game or out of the game due to foul trouble/injury. Speaking for myself I like the answer through six games.