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UNC unstoppable when motivated

North Carolina has been two different teams in ACC play thus far: outstanding at home, ragged on the road. If Florida State wins in Chapel Hill this weekend, that would send a loud message to the rest of the ACC. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
AP Photo/Ellen Ozier

A 17-hour postponement didn’t take away from North Carolina’s determination to throttle rival North Carolina State this weekend. If anything, it added to it.

The Tar Heels pummeled the Wolfpack from start to finish in a 107-56 beating on Sunday after winter weather delayed the game originally scheduled for Saturday.

The attention to detail was a welcome development for a UNC team that turned the ball over 55 times over its previous three outings. So, too, was the level defensive play from the home team, as the Heels held the Pack to 37-percent shooting.

Throughout the dominant showing, UNC demonstrated that it can play as well as anyone in the country when the effort is there on both ends.

It’s not that Carolina is going to win every time it plays well. Just last month, Roy Williams’ team fell to Kentucky despite notching 100 points on 53-percent shooting. However, the Tar Heel team that showed up on Sunday clicked in every way possible.

Four players scored in double figures, with three others scoring nine points each. UNC assisted on 21 baskets and logged 12 turnovers — its lowest total since Dec. 21 against Northern Iowa (5) — while making life miserable for a Wolfpack squad that finished with 26 turnovers.

Despite getting out-rebounded in the first half, the Heels ended the contest with a 50-36 advantage on the boards. They hit a season-high 12 three-pointers on 27 attempts. This was all while keeping N.C. State star point guard Dennis Smith Jr. in check, limiting the freshman to 11 points.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone in college basketball taking down North Carolina when it plays a complete game, but that’s the result when a supremely talented team gels and plays with fire.

Williams’ group has every piece necessary to be successful. Joel Berry is one of the top point guards in the nation; Justin Jackson has the potential to score 25 or more on any given night; Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks create a two-headed frontcourt monster that the vast majority of college coaches would kill to have. The lineup will become even more potent when junior defensive-stopper Theo Pinson is back to full speed — he played for the first time this season on Sunday, shaking off some rust.

The 2015-’16 edition of UNC set lofty standards: 33 wins, ACC regular-season and tournament titles, a trip to the national title game. This season’s team has a lot of work to do before it reaches any of those benchmarks, but the potential is there.

Relative to the rest of the country, the Tar Heels are in a good spot. According to KenPom.com, they rank No. 10 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 6 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The automatic two-pointer that was Brice Johnson is now gone, as is former face-of-the-program Marcus Paige. However, the current group is compensating for those losses in other ways.

UNC is better this season defensively, and three-point shooting is more of a strength than it has been in the past. Moving forward, consistency will be vital.

The next challenge will come Wednesday in the form of a Wake Forest team that’s itching for a résumé-boosting victory. The Demon Deacons are showing progress in Danny Manning’s third season, even if it’s not reflected by their record.

That makes Wake even more dangerous as it flies under the radar. Yet, if the Heels go into Winston-Salem with the same attitude they had against N.C. State, nothing will stop them from rolling to another blowout win.

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