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January 29, 2012North Carolina appears to be putting all its various pieces into a powerful whole.
The seventh-ranked Tar Heels defeated Georgia Tech 93-81 in a game that UNC seized control early and never relinquished it.
The Tar Heels (18-3, 5-1 in the ACC) are gradually making their defensive performances standard fare. The particulars play out this way: UNC eliminates opponents' inside games and forces them into settling for jump shots. Then Carolina rebounds the opposition's misses. Other times, the Tar Heels block shots or steal the ball.
Sometimes, the Tar Heels run the floor off these various exchanges; other times, they move the ball in a half-court setting and get the best shot. Against Tech, Carolina did an excellent job of moving the ball and using better spacing to make itself tougher to guard.
UNC shot 60 percent in the first half, sinking 8 of 12 3-point shots, while passing 14 assists on 18 total baskets. Carolina finished with 22 assists on 33 baskets, while shooting 54 percent from the field (33-61).
Carolina helped itself by sinking 10 of 16 3-point attempts. Sophomore Reggie Bullock led the way by going 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
Harrison Barnes topped the Tar Heels in scoring with 23 points on 8-of14 shooting.
The Tar Heels' spacing on the offensive end of the floor appeared better in this game than in the recent past. Their ability to share the ball and get the best possible shot carried the day.
"When we have spacing like that, and our shooters from the outside hit shots like that, we're very, very difficult to guard," said Tyler Zeller, who went 7-of-9 from the field and scored 17 points.
By game's end, the Tar Heels had shot 54.1 percent from the field (33-61) to 45.6 percent (31-68) for Georgia Tech.
"When we have Reggie in the game, it really spreads out the floor," Marshall said. "We have a very unselfish team, and we're going to find the open man no matter what. Sometimes it may hurt us because we overpass.
"You have to credit to every individual in that locker room for putting the team ahead of themselves."
Marshall conceded that it's not really an issue if UNC overpasses on a few plays, not with the overall benefit to be gained from being unselfish all night.
"Not at all," he said. "We would much rather having a problem of needing to be more aggressive rather than somebody taking too many shots."
Bullock has done an excellent job of working hard on defense and making use of his long arms and his height at 6 feet 7.
"I've said all year that Reggie's gotten better and better defensively," Coach Roy Williams said. "I think he has the length. He doesn't have the quickness or speed that Dexter does, but he has the length. I think Reggie did a nice job defensively. In fact, in the [N.C.] State game, he was the defensive player of the game."
The biggest criticism that could be leveled at the Tar Heels is they could not maintain their intensity on defense for the entire 40 minutes. This enabled Georgia Tech to outscore Carolina 49-41 in the second half while shooting 54.8 percent from the floor.
Nonetheless, that cannot takeaway from the game as a whole. And it all begins with Marshall for Carolina. He finished with 12 assists, one turnover, seven points, and he hit a 3-point shot early.
"They're playing at a high level," Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. "The pace they play at, it's hard to simulate that in practice. And when you get a guy with the ball that's making a good decision, a quality decision on every play, it makes it tough.
"They've got a lot of different weapons, and they are getting better defensively," Gregory said. "So they're obviously a team that will challenge for this league championship and are a team that can move on to the Final Four."