UNC Now: Looking back at UNC's 95-49 win over Mississippi State

acarter@newsobserver.comNovember 20, 2012 

Dexter Strickland's all-around game was one of many positives for North Carolina during its 95-49 victory against Mississippi State in Maui on Monday. ROBERT WILLETT

LAHAINA, Hawaii — North Carolina made 15 3-pointers, including a buzzer-beating 75-footer from P.J. Hairston to end the first half and Leslie McDonald had a career-high 21 points. Just what we thought would happen during the Tar Heels first game of the Maui Invitational, right?

The look back at UNC’s 95-49 victory against Mississippi State:

Three things to take away from the Tar Heels’ victory:

--Look, Mississippi State isn’t good. In fact, the Bulldogs might wind up being the worst team from a major conference that UNC plays this season. But what the Heels did on Monday – especially during the first half – would have been impressive against the UNC'S junior varsity team (and yes, there's still a JV team at UNC). The Heels made eight of their 15 3s during the first half, and took less than eight minutes to build a 20-point lead. So yes, you don’t want to get overly excited about a dominant performance against a bad team. But still, the Heels were sharp.

--So maybe Roy is right: Maybe the Heels are a good shooting team. UNC coach Roy Williams has said it again and again: His team can shoot. He’s got good shooters. We didn’t see that in UNC’s first two victories. But in the past two games (well, really during the past three halves), the Heels have proven Roy right. Tonight the Heels made 15 3-pointers, most since a February 2009 victory against Maryland. Reggie Bullock, Hairston and McDonald were a combined 14-for-21 on 3s.

--Nice night for McDonald. Journalists root for stories and after sitting out a season because of injury, and after a slow start to this season, McDonald provided a good story on Monday night. His 21 points were a career high, and his

By the numbers:

5 – Players who scored in double figures for UNC.

6 – Steals for Dexter Strickland, a career-high.

6 (again) – Points for Desmond Hubert, his first of the season.

12 – Turnovers for UNC, a season-low.

15 – Number of 3s UNC made on Monday, fourth-most in school history.

21 – points, a career-high, for McDonald.

22 – Number of 3s UNC has made in its past three halves.

28.3 – Shooting percentage for Mississippi State, the second team UNC has held to less than 30 percent.

UNC player of the game: In an unprecedented move here at UNC Now, we’re going to go with co-players of the game, folks.

First: Leslie McDonald, junior, guard. While he spent last season sitting on the Tar Heels’ bench, McDonald likely envisioned games like this one. He made six 3-pointers and finished with 21 points. Not bad in 19 minutes.

Second: Dexter Strickland, senior guard. Very strong all-around game from Strickland, who finished with 10 points, five assists, six steals and no turnovers.

Observations and thoughts:

--Even while Desmond Hubert labored through the Tar Heels’ first three games, North Carolina coach Roy Williams kept Hubert, the sophomore forward, in the starting lineup. Hubert started to show why on Monday night. He made all three of his shots from the field and finished with six points and two blocked shots. He scored four of the Heels’ points in their 9-0 run to start the game. Williams said Hubert has remained a starter because of his defensive ability.

Said Williams, on Hubert: “Well, he really does a nice job defensively in help defense. And blocking some shots and rebounding. He’s really struggled his last couple of games just holding onto the ball. He had some opportunities and I think he rushed himself – he was too eager … and tonight he had two different occasions where he took that extra split-second, let him complete the dunk, for example, and I think those little things can give him confidence. We don’t need Desmond to score 27 points a game. We need him to make lay-ups and dunks and then defend and rebound.”

--Ten North Carolina players received at least 10 minutes of playing time against Mississippi State, and no UNC player was in the game more than James Michael McAdoo, who played 23 minutes. Luke Davis, the Heels’ reserve sophomore point guard, played a season-high nine minutes and finished with three assists and no turnovers.

--Strickland entered the season with the goal of becoming a more assertive scorer, but so far Strickland has been perhaps the Heels’ most unselfish player. After finishing with six assists in the victory at Long Beach State on Friday, Strickland had five assists against Mississippi State. He penetrated often and set up his teammates with easier shots. Strickland didn’t have a turnover, either.

--More than half of UNC’s 95 points came from the Tar Heels’ bench. McDonald, who sat out last season after suffering an ACL injury, finished with 21 points and 19 minutes, and Hairston had 18 points in 15 minutes. McDonald and Hairston were a combined 10-of-16 on 3-pointers, and they both provided UNC with instant offense when they entered the game.

--One of the best parts about watching games inside the Lahaina Civic Center is that the intimate environment provides observers with a rare opportunity to listen to coaches instruct their players. At one point in the first half, Williams’ voice cut through the din when he directed his ire at both Joel James and J.P. Tokoto, a pair of freshmen. Williams wasn’t happy with the rebounding effort both had given during a particular play. “Get in there and rebound,” Williams yelled at both.

Quotable:

“We made shots today. I was not pleased with our rebounding, and at times not pleased with some of the things we did. We turned it over too many times in the first half. But we made shots and everything looked good.” –Roy Williams

“That’s just a shot I practice, maybe sometimes playing around before practice maybe. And I knew at some point it was going to go in.” –P.J. Hairston, on his 75-footer at the buzzer before halftime.

“I’ve said for a long time that we’re really a good shooting team … we just didn’t shoot it the first couple of nights out. But I think when we’re consistent getting the basketball inside, and getting good balance of inside scoring and guys shooting good 3-point shots, I think that’s when we’re our best team.” –Roy Williams

“It’s been a rough start. I took a year off, rehabbing everything. So I’ve got to get used to getting accustomed with conditioning … but I think this game was really a come-out game for me.” –Leslie McDonald

Up next:

UNC plays against Butler in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational on Tuesday at 8 p.m. The Bulldogs advanced with a 3-pointer at the buzzer against Marquette.

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