Who would’ve thought that Hicks would be the man of the hour? Well, it might not be too far-fetched, he is 6th man of the year, but tonight he showed up like a starter.

Going into this game, it was noted that Notre Dame might’ve had the capabilities to beat UNC, but it seems that UNC had a trick up their sleeve: defense and Isaiah Hicks. UNC’s defense, especially their back court, at times failed to deliver which in result let teams return from large deficits. But tonight, UNC has  finally played their most complete game in the entire season. From Marcus Paige finding his jumper, Jackson fighting for rebounds and Hicks off the bench, Carolina couldn’t have done a better job. Notre Dame only saw the lead once at the 16:07 mark in the first half and the rest is history. UNC/ND only suffered three lead changes in single digits.

I don’t think many were expecting this UNC team. Notre Dame famously attacked UNC earlier in the season on their home court in South Bend, and after they defeated Duke yesterday in OT, Notre Dame had the momentum; or so they thought. ND head coach Mike Brey couldn’t account himself for UNC’s defense with saying:

“I thought UNC’s defense was fabulous, different from anything we had seen from them, and different from what we saw in South Bend.”

Mike Brey even went on further to say at halftime his team knew the game was tougher then they planned.

 “We could make our travel plans at halftime. That’s how tough it was.”

But how about UNC’s shining stars Paige and Hicks? Well, lets start off with Paige. It’s agreed that Paige hasn’t been “himself” these past few weeks. Since coming back from injury, Paige didn’t seem to have the confidence that he once demonstrated the past few years.

“I’m definitely not surprised at my level of play, I know I’m capable of playing at this level. It was only a matter of time before I got my confidence back. I never thought I honestly ever left.”

It has been Brice Johnson who took over the leadership for this team, but tonight was the return of Paige and possibly the return of the championship team that was pegged at the beginning of the season. Paige finished off the night with 16 and 7 while playing 32 minutes. Wonder why he played so long in such a dominating game? From his answer, you can’t let off the gas pedal especially on a team like Notre Dame.

“Its pretty fun when you know you’re playing well, But we knew there was a lot of game left cause they came back before. we couldn’t celebrate early. Had to finish the job”

Hicks, who finished 11 and 15, made UNC into a tougher team. At times throughout the season, UNC lacked aggression and strength in the paint. Fans and even analyst alike, looking at you Jay Williams, wishes Coach Roy Williams would start Hicks over Meeks, but I’m not for it. I think Hicks is best used as your secret weapon. While you never want to get in deep in the first half, it’s reassuring to know you have a bench that can contribute at least 20 points. Hicks, who also seems to have caught national attention, spoke about the defensive effort brought by UNC tonight.

“That’s the kind of defense we’ve been trying to play all year … We’re trying to win this.”

If UNC keeps playing like this, its time to put them in your Final Four; They are finally playing competitive basketball. And as far as playing in DC instead of Greensboro? Marcus Paige as this to say,

“as long as we keep winning I love DC”

Tar Heels will play in the ACC Final for the 5th time in 6 years tomorrow night at 9pm.

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