UNC steamrolls McNeese State 97-63

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 23, 2012 

— North Carolina coach Roy Williams gave his team an off day on Thursday, the day after the Tar Heels suffered a disheartening loss at Texas. Williams went on the road recruiting, became sick and still sounded ill on Saturday after the Tar Heels’ 97-63 victory against McNeese State.

At least his team’s play might have made him feel better. A lot about that 85-67 loss at Texas on Wednesday frustrated Williams, and he said after that game that his players needed to “buy in” to his message. Yet Williams didn’t spend practice on Friday preaching any more loudly than normal.

“I told them I was sick as a dog,” he said. “I didn’t want to be screaming in their face and making them sick. So play better.”

Even if he felt well enough to yell and scream during that practice, Williams likely would not have. His players on Saturday described a practice full of teaching moments, and one in which the Tar Heels tried to come together after a sloppy, mistake-filled performance at Texas.

James Michael McAdoo, the Tar Heels’ sophomore forward, said Friday practice was about “really just trying to step up as a team, individually.”

“Everyone has a role on this team,” he said. “I feel like to this point, not everyone is quite sure what that role is. So I think that games like Texas, even though you lose, they do help you in a sense. But not if you don’t have practices like we’ve been having, where we’re learning from those mistakes.”

North Carolina (9-3) gave one of its cleanest performances of the season Saturday. The Tar Heels shot 47.3 percent, made 13 3-pointers – tied for the second-most 3s they’ve made this season – and they put away early the overmatched Cowboys (6-4), who never led and trailed by 31 at halftime.

UNC’s defense, which didn’t often stop dribble penetration at Texas, denied it successfully Saturday. And the Heels made 13 of their 28 3-point attempts, after making just 3 of 19 at Texas.

The Tar Heels have proven they can be potent 3-point shooting team. But in their three losses, they’ve made just 11 of 49.

“I think we can really shoot,” Williams said. “And if you can really shoot, you’re supposed to do it every night, and you’re not supposed to have those nights where you go 3 for 22 or whatever the heck it is. It makes it more frustrating, but also we’ve got to establish more of an inside game to have balance.”

P.J. Hairston came off the bench to lead UNC with 20 points. He made three of his eight 3-pointers. Reggie Bullock made five, and finished with 17 points. McAdoo (12 points), Leslie McDonald (11) and Brice Johnson (10) also scored in double figures for the Tar Heels, who scored 21 second-chance points and got 52 points from their bench.

The outside shooting and the play of freshman point guard Marcus Paige, who finished with nine points, were perhaps the most glaring positives for UNC. But Williams again bemoaned his team’s lack of production on the interior.

McNeese State outscored UNC 44-32 in the paint, and Williams rejected the notion that the Tar Heels had to take a lot of 3-pointers because those are the shots that were open against the Cowboys, who often used a zone defense.

“Every football coach in America will get mad at me,” Williams said. “How many times do you hear a football coach say, ‘We took what they gave us?’ I think that’s dumb as dirt. If you want to give me something, that means that you think it’s to your advantage. I want to take what I want.”

And Williams wants more offensive balance. More than anything on Saturday, though, he likely wanted a clean, dominant performance – which is exactly what the Tar Heels provided.

Bullock described the victory as “a good bounce-back” game. After that loss at Texas, it was Bullock who chided his teammates for their selfishness and individuality. On Saturday he offered a reminder that while this win was nice, it didn’t solve any of the team’s ongoing problems.

“I was just telling players, we need to do this in big-time games, when you’re playing against better teams,” Bullock said. “… I just feel like that’s the biggest challenge for this team, taking things that we do in practice and actually just moving it into games.”

Now, though, the Tar Heels will take some time away from practice. Many of the players left the locker room with bags packed, headed for the airport and toward home for Christmas break. Williams said he likes that a break has arrived.

“I think this break is coming at a good time for us to give them a couple of days to rest a little bit and go home and spend some time with their family, and come back,” he said. “Because it’s here. We have UNLV, and then the ACC and that’s all we have. Big-time basketball is here.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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