LAHAINA, Hawaii -- North Carolina didn’t accomplish what it wanted in Maui. Coach Roy Williams said there were two things that he wanted to do on the island: Win the championship and improve each day.
The Tar Heels didn’t do either. Following an impressive debut against Mississippi State, they got blindsided by Butler and needed a 23-point turnaround in the second half just to avoid a rout.
There was only one thing left to prove Wednesday at the Lahaina Civic Center. With those two goals no longer a possibility, the tournament finale became a test of how the Tar Heels could recoup from their first letdown.
The game plan was simple. As Reggie Bullock said, “We just tried to take out our anger from last night that we felt as a team.”
The Tar Heels did just that. UNC stepped on the pedal quick and never let off. The refocused group went on a 20-2 run in the first 10 minutes of the game to grab a double-digit lead that didn’t once turn back single. By the end, the Tar Heels (5-1) emerged with a 112-70 victory against Maui host Chaminade and showed that they would spend no time wallowing in self-pity.
“We were trying to refocus and come back (Wednesday) ready to play,” James Michael McAdoo said. “Sorry to beat them that bad, but we were really trying to go out there and get better as a team.”
Everything was working Wednesday like it had been prior to tipoff of the Butler game. The Tar Heels were finding open shots in rhythm and filling it up from deep.
Defensive pressure forced the Silverswords into difficult looks, and those stops turned into fast-break buckets on the other end. UNC simply shellacked a far inferior opponent en route to its first 100-point performance of the season.
Winning the game — and even looking near flawless in the process — wasn’t what UNC’s final game at the Maui Invitational was about, though. A blowout victory was supposed to happen against a Division II squad, which Chaminade is. If UNC had won by any slimmer of a margin, then there were much greater questions at stake.
Instead, Wednesday’s game was about resiliency. The young Tar Heels had endured their first loss fewer than 24 hours earlier. The matchup against Chaminade was their first chance to show how they’d bounce back.
From the second the Tar Heels took the court, a rejuvenated focus was apparent. They were hustling to loose balls, passing the ball in sync and communicating with each other on a different level. Butler hit UNC with a wake-up call, and the Tar Heels unleashed their counter on Chaminade.
“Last night’s game had a great effect on how we played (Wednesday). We were all extremely upset and mad, however you want to describe it, and we wanted to focus on (Wednesday’s) game and have a different energy level,” Williams said. “We responded pretty well to a tough situation and some adversity, and I think that was good for us.”
Chaminade was full of praise for UNC following the contest. Silversword guard DeAndre Haskins, who played at Valparaiso before transferring to Chaminade and played against UNC while he was there in 2009, said this year’s UNC team could be better than that squad. That other Tar Heel team won a national championship, and Haskins said this year’s team “probably will,” too.
Chaminade coach Eric Bovaird probably gave the most accurate analysis of UNC yet this year.
“They’re pretty good when they play that hard,” he said.
It took a loss to elicit the effort that UNC needed to win the Invitational. Now looking forward, the question remains whether that refocusing has staying power, or if it was a one-time thing.
One thing is for certain. If UNC stands a chance at No. 1 Indiana Tuesday, they’ll have to play even harder.