Mar 19, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) dunks the ball in the second half against the Providence Friars during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at PNC Arena. The Tar Heels won 85-66. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tough Tar Heels silence doubters

RALEIGH — North Carolina passed the toughness test with three business-like wins on the way to the ACC Tournament Championship last week.

That should’ve given everyone more faith in UNC, right? They’re a No. 1 seed, heavily favored in their first two NCAA Tournament games with a National Player of the Year candidate on the roster.

So why wouldn’t they be a favorite to make it to the Final Four?

Good question.

National analysts still doubted their edge. ESPN’s Myron Medcalf picked UNC to exit the tournament in the first weekend. Seth Davis wondered if Florida Gulf Coast would be the first 16-seed to beat the No. 1 seed Tar Heels.

And yet, after the first weekend, North Carolina is still standing — and standing tall.

With another big time run keyed by a dominant defensive effort, UNC raced past Providence, effectively crushing any lingering narrative that questioned UNC’s toughness.

“Everyone hears what the national media guys say,” guard Marcus Paige said. “It’s impossible not to at this time of year. We feel like we’ve earned the rights to be considered one of the best teams with the way we’ve played.

“Yet, I think everybody and ESPN, they picked either Kansas or Michigan State to win it and most people had Kentucky in the Final Four. We felt like we had to use that as a little bit of motivation and also just the fact that we’re a one seed and we were expected to win this game and we wanted to come out and assert our dominance.”

Before last night’s win, the Friars echoed that narrative, playfully picking at the Tar Heels as they warmed up.

“It started yesterday and then when we were walking out and stretching, they were saying something about y’all guys look cute and something like that,” Joel Berry II said. “I think everybody just takes us for just some soft guys walking around thinking just because we’re Carolina, they’re going to bow down to us. We were talking a little junk tonight but sometimes it gets like that and I like it.”

The trash talk continued on the court as the two teams chirped back and forth throughout the game. But UNC silenced Providence with its lockdown defense and massive run en route to the 19-point win and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen to face No. 5 seed Indiana in Philadelphia.

“I think it’s this Carolina blue,” Berry said. “It kind of gives up that little soft impression but we went out there and did what we had to do and now they’re the ones going home.”

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