CHAPEL HILL — This was the kind of response, overall, North Carolina coach Roy Williams wanted to see following a disheartening loss at Indiana earlier in the week. Even so, amid all the good things the Tar Heels did in their 102-84 victory against UAB on Saturday, there were still some moments that drove Williams wild with anger.
One of those moments came during a timeout with 13:16 remaining, and UNC leading 59-52. Williams had just witnessed a pair of defensive breakdowns. He ripped off his grey jacket. His players gathered around him while he screamed, and then Williams slammed a clipboard into the court, and a marker that had been attached to it went soaring into the air.
If I say pick up the other teams point guard at the 10-second line, thats what I mean, Williams said when asked what had made him so upset. He then pointed to a nearby cup sitting on a table. Its an easy deal. If I tell my 3-year-old grandson to pick that cup up, my guess is hell probably pick it up. And thats all the [heck] it is, just do what I tell you to do.
And besides, I was really hot. I needed to get my coat off.
Williams could crack a line about it afterward but not then, while he was attempting to teach his team a thing or two about defense, and listening. P.J. Hairston, UNCs sophomore guard, knew he and his teammates would be hearing it when he saw Williams peel off his coat.
Hairston turned around and told his teammates to hustle off the court and into the huddle.
He basically told us to pick it up on defense that we need to talk better, Hairston said. And when he slammed the clipboard, I saw the marker go in the air. So I kind of like looked up for five seconds and it was still going up the marker was in the air for at least five seconds.
The No. 14 Heels (6-2) appeared rejuvenated after Williams talk. He directed most of his ire toward Dexter Strickland, a senior who made his first start at point guard. Strickland started there because Marcus Paige, a freshman who had started every game, suffered a shoulder injury in practice on Friday.
Strickland finished with a career-high nine assists, and he seemed energized after Williams called him out for his defensive failures. Strickland said his defensive mistake made him mad but, he said, I kept my composure.
The next play after the timeout, he aggressively drove down the lane for a layup. That gave him two of his 11 points. Leslie McDonald, who started for the first time, finished with a career-high 24 points and made 7 of his 11 attempts from the field.
My big key," McDonald said, "was just to let it flow dont try to force it and dont try to be too aggressive.
The Blazers (4-4), coached by former UNC assistant coach Jerod Haase, didnt go away easily. They held a one-point lead midway through the first half and trailed by just six at halftime, after they successfully rebounded from the Heels 13-0 run that gave them fleeting control of the game.
UAB kept it close in the second half, too, and trailed by six with 11:19 to play. From there, though, UNC went on a 12-2 run during the next two and a half minutes to take control for good. UAB never again cut the Heels lead into single digits, and the Heels led by as many as 21 points late in the second half.
UNCs 67 second-half points were its most since it scored 67 in a half against Chaminade in a victory in the 2008 Maui Invitational. The Heels shot 71.9 percent, but they also allowed UAB plenty of scoring chances, too. The Blazers 55 second-half points were 10 less than they had, total, in a 77-65 loss against Illinois State on Nov. 23.
Still, Williams liked what he saw. For the most part, anyway. Asked if this was the kind of performance he wanted to see after that 83-59 loss at No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday night, Williams answered in the affirmative.
Except for the defensive end of the floor, he said. The fans are even wondering why theyre getting six shots, and that kind of stuff. But weve got to get better.
UNC during the second half used a smaller lineup with success. The Heels during that stretch used four guards with Hairston as the power forward and 6-foot-8 forward James Michael McAdoo, who finished with 15 points, as the center. All players roamed the perimeter offensively during that stretch.
The smaller lineup allowed the Heels to run more in transition, and they also took advantage of open shots on the outside. After attempting just eight three-pointers against Indiana, UNC made 10 of its 23 3-point attempts against UAB.
Williams afterward called it a weird game and said it was a shock not to have Paige, whose status was in doubt until shortly before tip-off. But overall, with the exception of defensive breakdowns that endangered his clipboard and made him hot enough to remove his jacket, Williams liked much of what he saw on Saturday, especially after his inspirational talk.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter