Late surge carries UNC past Shaw, 81-54

acarter@newsobserver.comOctober 27, 2012 

— Six minutes into the second half at the Smith Center on Friday night, North Carolina and Shaw were tied during the Tar Heels’ first exhibition of the preseason. It seemed only a matter of time before the Tar Heels went on a run to take control of the game, and they did during their 81-54 victory.

But it is debatable, perhaps, whether North Carolina coach Roy Williams more appreciated his team’s dominance during the final 14 minutes or the struggles the Tar Heels endured before then.

“I thought it was really a good night for us,” said Williams, who remained calm on the sideline when the Tar Heels trailed 42-39 early in the second half. “I even liked it when they took the lead, because I think those are the kinds of things we’re going to face all year, so I liked the way our guys responded.‘‘

The Tar Heels return veteran players Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo. But they will rely on many freshmen, too, and first-year players played a large role in the Heels’ eventual success.

McAdoo led the Tar Heels with 16 points, but Joel James, the freshman forward, was UNC’s second-leading scorer. He finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes. Marcus Paige, a freshman who started at point guard, finished with six points after a scoreless first half.

And the other two freshmen, forwards Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto, had their moments as well. Johnson had eight points and six rebounds and produced some of North Carolina’s highlights during its sluggish first half – after which the Tar Heels led just 37-33 at halftime.

“I think in the second half, we settled down and played the way we want to play and the way we will play,” Williams said.

The game was tied at 44 with 13:54 left. From there, UNC went on a 23-0 run – one that delighted a Smith Center crowd of about 12,000 that had sat in nervous anticipation of when the Tar Heels would start to control the game. During the run the Heels increased both their defensive pressure and their tempo on offense.

After a scoreless first half, P.J. Hairston, North Carolina’s sophomore guard, sparked the decisive run with eight quick points. In a span of about two minutes, he made two 3-pointers and another shot when he penetrated the lane. Hairston finished with eight points.

“I didn’t wonder about it,” Hairston said when asked if he had thought about when the Tar Heels’ decisive run would come. “I knew it was going to happen.”

Williams experimented with a variety of lineups. Paige, Strickland and Luke Davis all saw time at point guard. James spent significant time in the post.

All of UNC’s scholarship players played at least seven minutes, and seven players finished with at least six points. The game was, McAdoo, said, exactly what the Tar Heels expected it to be: “A glorified practice.”

And one that will offer Williams and staff plenty of areas on which to focus. The Heels shot 3-of-16 from 3-point range and were 14-of-26 from the foul line (6-of-14 in the second half). Long after the Smith Center emptied, Strickland remained, practicing his shot for about 25 minutes.

McAdoo afterward expressed satisfaction with UNC’s performance in its first exhibition but he thought ahead to the start of the real season – still weeks away.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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