Strickland shakes off struggles in UNC's win over Boston College

North Carolina guard scored best output in a month Tuesday

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 31, 2013 

— Dexter Strickland often shoots alone on a dimly lit Smith Center court after North Carolina home games. The extra practice, though, sometimes hasn’t shown.

“It has been difficult,” Strickland, the Tar Heels’ senior guard, said Tuesday night after UNC’s 82-70 victory against Boston College. “Because I’ve been working on my shot a lot, so when I’m not hitting it, it hurts my confidence a little bit.”

Strickland’s performance Tuesday, then, might help to rebuild some of what he has lost. He still struggled with his perimeter shot at times, and made just four of his 10 attempts from the field. Even so, the 14 points that Strickland scored against the Eagles were the most he’d scored since finishing with 16 in a victory against UNLV on Dec. 29.

Since that game, Strickland had struggled, especially offensively. He scored just four points in the Heels’ first ACC game, a road loss at Virginia.

He followed that with no points – or assists, rebounds, steals or anything else that showed up on the box score, besides a lone missed shot from the field – in a loss against Miami. He played 26 minutes that night, and later called it the worst game of his career.

Strickland’s production improved after the Miami game, but not by much. He scored four points in a victory at Florida State, and six points in each of UNC’s previous three games before Tuesday. He tried to contribute in other ways – as a pass-first point guard when Marcus Paige, the UNC freshman, rested. As a defender.

Before Tuesday, though, the points weren’t coming. Strickland said before the season that he’d surprise people with his ability to score. That he struggled to do so might have come as a surprise to him.

“But that’s something I can’t dwell on,” he said Tuesday. “I know the type of player I am, and I know the type of player I could be, and I’m just trying to go out there and help my team.”

He did Tuesday. So did Paige.

Strickland and Paige struggled perhaps more than anyone during the Tar Heels’ 91-83 loss at N.C. State on Saturday. Strickland couldn’t back up his controversial preseason words, when he described the Wolfpack as “the least of our worries” given UNC’s recent dominance against N.C. State.

Strickland finished with a quiet six points. Paige, meanwhile, couldn’t keep up with Lorenzo Brown, the Wolfpack point guard who finished with 20 points and 11 assists. After missing his first eight shots, Paige made two of his final three shots and finished with seven points.

“He’s a freshman, and everybody said he played the worst game in mankind Saturday,” UNC coach Roy Williams said of Paige. “Not me – but everybody else did. And I think it was a tough game for him, and he’s a tough kid and bounced back and played well tonight.”

Paige scored eight points against Boston College, but the most impressive aspect of his performance was how he led UNC in and out of his offense. He attempted to push the pace when the opportunity presented itself. When it didn’t, he didn’t force passes or shots.

Paige finished Tuesday night with eight points, six assists and just one turnover.

“Saturday was rough,” Paige said. “I got to the lane a couple of times and bricked some layups, made some silly turnovers. So to have a solid floor game like I did [against Boston College] was refreshing after a game like Saturday.”

It was a feeling to which Strickland could relate.

•  An update on Hairston: P.J. Hairston on Wednesday showed signs of improvement after suffering a concussion during North Carolina’s 82-70 victory at Boston College on Tuesday night, but in a statement UNC described him as “doubtful” for the Tar Heels’ game on Saturday at Virginia Tech.

Hairston on Tuesday night scored 14 points in 12 minutes – and made all four of his 3-point attempts – before sustaining an inadvertent elbow to the head from teammate Dexter Strickland with about four minutes to play in the first half. Hairston fell to the court and remained there for several minutes before medical personnel carried him off t he court on a stretcher.

He was diagnosed with a concussion not long after, and watched some of the second half from the UNC bench. Hairston returned with the team on Tuesday night and UNC doctors evaluated him on Wednesday.

“We’re certainly pleased that P.J. is feeling better, but it is unlikely that he will play on Saturday,” UNC athletics trainer Chris Hirth said in a statement the school released Wednesday afternoon.

Hairston is UNC’s third-leading scorer and is averaging 12.4 points per game. He has made 12 of his last 18 3-point attempts.

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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