This was a game of streaks.
UNC went out 13-0. Valpo answered by outscoring the Heels 37-24 and had possession of the ball with the game knotted at 37. From there UNC took complete control of the game in every conceivable facet outscoring the Crusaders 53-21 over the final 17 minutes to completely run Valpo out of the building. This was also a game where UNC played medicore perimeter defense in the first half and allowed Valpo to do a lot of things they wanted to do. Even when Valpo was missing their first eleven shots, they were still getting those looks and it was only because they were just plain off that UNC ran out to a 13-15 point lead early on. Taking those eleven misses out of the equation Valpo shot a blistering 54% against the UNC defense. Also Valpo shot 7 for 20 from three with seven of those misses coming in that drought during the first few minutes. Taking those out Valpo was 7 for 13 from beyond the arc over the final 13 minutes of the half. Needless to say this was not the kind of defensive effort you want to see.
So fast forward to the second half and UNC comes out guarding the perimeter fairly well but giving up some baskets inside and Valpo manages to tie the game. From that point on it was all Danny Green followed by a heavy dose of Deon Thompson blocking shots and finished off by Tyler Hansbrough with an assortment of dunks and free throws. From that point on UNC held Valpo to 34% from the floor and only nine three point attempts of which they only hit two. It went from being a poor defensive effort to nearly a clinic on the topic with UNC coming up with 11 steals and 12 blocks on the game and holding Valpo to only 27 second half points. That is a tremendous effort but the fact they flipped a switch and got that kind of effort it a tad scary. I think it speaks volumes about the Heels’ toughness as a team and also speaks to an ability to mentally bounce back from a poor defensive effort within the same game. This was something they seemed incapable of doing in the Nicholls State game but this time out the team responded. When you also consider that UNC is very much readjusting to life without Bobby Frasor and for now Quentin Thomas, it is a huge deal they figured out how to defend a perimeter oriented team without Frasor providing defensive leadership on the floor.
The performances we saw tonight from certain individuals definitely will pique some folks’ attention. I think Deon Thompson is finally showing up in the manner everyone expected from him in the preseason. Prior to the Nicholls State game, Thompson had only two multi block games(two versus Iona and three versus Rutgers) Since then he has record three blocks versus UCSB, two versus Nevada and five versus Valpo. Thompson also seems to have settled into a pattern of contributing either on the boards or on offense. Against Valpo it was both with 11 points and eight rebounds. The blocks were the bigger deal to say the least.
And what in the name of Dean Smith did they put in Will Graves pre-game meal? Obviously time will tell if this was some kind of one time explosion of incredible shooting or if Graves is ready to step up given the loss of Frasor. I would be very interested to know if one of the coaches sat down with Graves to discuss the situation and he basically responded. At any rate I am all for seeing more of that from him. Same goes for Danny Green, not that we have not been seeing Green play like he did tonight but it was so clutch during that dangerous period in the second half. And understand it was not just the shooting from Green but his defense in general with three steals and four blocks to go along with the 20 points and five assists. And had you told me coming into this game that UNC would hit as many threes as Valpo while shooting 10% better than the Crusaders from beyond the arc I would have probably laughed. UNC offset the primary weapon Valpo has and in doing so made it about whether he Crusaders could defend the Heels’ break and interior game. They couldn’t, in a bad way and it showed in the lopsided second half.
In the end it was a great win and despite the effort on defense in the first half, UNC played extremely well in the second half on both ends of the floor. As I said previously, the ability to adjust and toughness shown by the players to step up when Valpo basically smacked them in the mouth cannot be underscored enough. As UNC works through the schedule they are showing how capable they are of winning in various game scenarios. And UNC will need every ounce of it next week at Littlejohn.