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Tar Heels on the run, run, run to a Duke showdown


Chants of “We! Want! Duke! We! Want! Duke!” filled the arena after North Carolina handled Maryland 87-76 on Sunday night.

Ask and ye shall receive, Tar Heel fans. Can you wait six days?

The Heels (22-6 overall, 12-2 in ACC) have now won 15 of their last 17 games and are tied with the Blue Devils atop the conference standings. Provided both handle mid-week foes – UNC is at Florida State while Duke hosts Clemson – Saturday’s showdown will be for the regular-season title and the top seed in the conference title.

That’s not something most would’ve predicted after a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech in mid-January.

“It’s a great feeling [to know we have a chance],’’ point guard Kendall Marshall told the Raleigh News & Observer. “One of our goals this season is, we want to get a ring. Not one – but multiple. And the first step to that is the ACC regular season. To get that, we have a game against Florida State. So we just have to take care of business one step at a time. Right now, we control our own destiny.”

Even better for college hoops fans, the Heels are running. And running well.

Since that G.T. loss, North Carolina’s turning out 71-possession games, which bumps up another possession if you discount a 48-46 win over B.C. Sunday against the Terps, coach Roy Williams told the Heels to run, run and run some more.

The result was 87 points on 81 possessions. Not incredibly efficient, but it worked. And Roy wants ‘em to run even more.

“I’ve probably yelled the words ‘run’ and ‘go’ more than anyone in the history of the world,” Williams told the paper.

“This team can play faster, but it’s not innate with them yet. But we can run better. Kendall [Marshall] can push it more.”

Another few games like that and UNC will be at the tempo of its three other Final Four teams under Williams, all of which were right at 74 possessions a game. Those teams also led the nation in scoring efficiency, which this team won’t be able to match.

But the defense is thriving, and the offense continues to improve under the direction of Marshall, who just played his 11th game as a starter. He and his teammates both know better things are possible.

“I still don’t think we’ve peaked, though. We have a lot of room to get better,” freshman Harrison Barnes told the paper.

That’ll have to happen to beat Duke.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.