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Re-energized Tar Heels peaking at the right time

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UNC Notebook

After appearing worn down in the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference slate — with Roy Williams expressing frustration at having to coach energy level — North Carolina has looked re-energized over the past week while successfully handling three tough opponents, including rivals Duke and N.C. State, in five days.

Against Duke on Feb. 8, Carolina actually appeared to wear the Blue Devils’ thinner rotation down in the second half.

“That’s a lot of minutes,” senior Theo Pinson pointed out after the game. “We were pushing the ball, and I think we got into their legs in the first 10 minutes.”

Whatever the cause, Carolina has looked significantly fresher and seems to be peaking just in time for a late-season run.

RESURGENT WILLIAMS KEY TO SUCCESS

Before UNC’s 82-78 win over Duke on Thursday, Pinson says he took junior guard Kenny Williams aside to share a little timeless wisdom.

“Kenny,” Pinson warned, “if you hesitate on any shot, I’m gonna call a timeout and punch you in the face.”

Pressed on whether he would have backed up the warning, Pinson conceded that he wouldn’t have called timeout — Roy Williams “would’ve killed me” for wasting the timeout — but laughingly insisted that he would have hit his teammate in the face without hesitation at the next timeout.

“Kenny’s too good a shooter to hesitate,” Pinson said.

Williams heeded the wisdom of his teammate en route to 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point range against the Blue Devils, finally breaking out of a nearly month-long shooting slump. Williams has since followed that performance with solid shooting performances in wins over N.C. State (2 of 3 from deep) on Saturday and Notre Dame (3 of 5) on Monday.

Williams has now shot better than 50 percent from long range and scored in double figures in four straight games (averaging 15 points per game) after going 1 of 9 from deep and scoring a total of 14 points in the prior three games.

It is surely no coincidence that UNC is now on a four-game win streak after having lost the previous three games. Simply put, Carolina needs other dependable scoring options to take some of that load off Joel Berry II and Luke Maye, and when Williams is shooting the way he has the last four games, Carolina is a completely different team. Just ask Duke, N.C. State and Notre Dame.

DOMINANCE ON THE BOARDS

Earlier in the year, this column pointed to offensive rebounding as central to Carolina’s success, and the recent streaks have only further reinforced the importance of that category for the Tar Heels.

Carolina was outscored in second-chance points in each game of its three-game losing streak, but the Tar Heels have won that category by a whopping 10.25 ppg over the last four games.

Perhaps the most surprising of those was the result of winning the rebounding battle against a much bigger Duke lineup, something the Carolina players highlighted with pride after the game.

“We made that a point of emphasis,” Kenny Williams explained. “Our biggest emphasis (was) getting to the boards.”

NATIONAL SIGNING DAY ADDITIONS

National Signing Day was a major success for North Carolina football, as the Tar Heels landed three signing-day commitments from highly-touted players from the state of Florida.

The Carolina offensive line received a major talent infusion with the additions of a pair of highly-regarded linemen from Apopka. The first, Ed Montilus (6-foot-2, 290 pounds), is ranked in the top 25 offensive guard prospects nationally and is a top 100 overall prospect in Florida. Montilus chose Carolina over Florida and Mississippi.

But the truly huge (both literally and figuratively) addition, was William Barnes, a 6-4, 325-pound offensive tackle regarded as one of the top five prospects at the position in the country and one of the 10 best players in Florida. Put simply, Barnes is not the type of prospect UNC is expcted to land over the native power programs in Florida.

The third and final signing-day addition was Rockledge wide receiver Antoine Green, a longtime Florida State commitment with a rare size-speed combination, having run an 11.9 100 meters at 6-2, 195 pounds. Green chose Carolina over Florida St., Georgia, Ohio State, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

With these three high-profile additions, the 2018 class should be considered head coach Larry Fedora’s best at UNC.

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