McAdoo, Strickland propel UNC past Ga. Tech, 70-58

acarter@newsobserver.comFebruary 19, 2013 

— North Carolina’s Roy Williams long ago built part of his coaching philosophy on the principle of speed and on the belief that scoring as many points as possible, as quickly as possible, is a foundation to winning.

It’s an approach that has helped Williams win two national championships and hundreds of games, and one his Tar Heels finally might be grasping. The latest evidence came Tuesday during a 70-58 victory against Georgia Tech.

Williams described it as an “ugly game at times.” But during one stretch in the second half North Carolina (18-8, 8-5) played as fast as it has all season, and its ability to create transition offense helped turn a close game into a rout.

“We had to,” junior guard Reggie Bullock said of increasing the pace. “We had to push it in transition, because they’re a team that likes taking it all the way down to the (shot) clock, making you play defense for a whole 35 seconds. So we had to get out and run and just get our tempo, get our energy, and just run the ball.”

Bullock, who scored all nine of his points during the second half, had three second-half layups – two on fast breaks orchestrated by Dexter Strickland. The first of those fast-break layups put the Tar Heels ahead by eight. The second, which came moments after the first, gave them a 12-point lead.

Both Strickland-to-Bullock sequences were part of an 18-4 run that gave the Tar Heels control.

Williams praised Strickland, who has been more aggressive in seeking transition opportunities during the past three games since UNC adopted a smaller lineup.

“And he’s the guy that all the experts wanted me to take out,” Williams said of Strickland, who finished with four points, seven assists and no turnovers. “He’s been pretty doggone good the last three games.”

Though his play has improved significantly since the Tar Heels went to a four-guard starting lineup last week, Strickland had been somewhat of a forgotten man. But the smaller lineup has created better spacing, and more opportunities for Strickland to penetrate.

He took advantage, even while he and other perimeter starters – P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock and Marcus Paige – struggled to find their shots early on.

“As far as the starters, we weren’t doing a good job of just knocking down the shots that we usually” do, Strickland said. “And it was important for us to get those easy buckets.”

It was important, too, for sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo to produce during the first half, when UNC shot 37.8percent. McAdoo had just nine points in each of the past two games.

In both, Hairston – the newcomer to the starting lineup – had starred. But he made just one of his seven 3-point attempts Tuesday.

McAdoo, though, emerged. He scored 15 of his 22 points during the first half, and finished with 11 rebounds. He said the switch to a small lineup hasn’t affected him offensively.

“I just think it puts a lot more of the rebounding burden on me, knowing that I’m the biggest guy on the court,” he said. “I think it really helps me focus in more on crashing the boards and boxing out good every time on the defensive and offensive boards – and kind of just being that force in the middle.”

The Tar Heels, who shot 37.9percent, also got 15 points from reserve Leslie McDonald. The Tar Heels scored 21 points off of 19 Yellow Jackets’ turnovers, and held Georgia Tech (14-11, 4-9), which has been one of the ACC’s worst offensive teams, to 39.7percent shooting.

“I do like that we’re trying to run,” Williams said. “Reggie and Leslie had two-on-one, throw it out of bounds, and don’t get a shot. And James Michael throws it off a guy’s leg one time.

“But we’re going to keep trying to run and try to get faster.”

OBSERVATIONS

-- For all the talk of the challenges that North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston would encounter while guarding Georgia Tech’s taller, stronger, front court players, he held up well defensively Tuesday. Hairston, 6-foot-5, has started at power forward since the Tar Heels went to a smaller starting lineup last week.

-- UNC coach Roy Williams said last week that his team still isn’t playing as fast as he wants it to. Yet Dexter Strickland did his best to pick up the pace during the second half on Tuesday night. Strickland sprinted up the court and passed ahead to Reggie Bullock for two layups that extended the Tar Heels’ lead to eight and 12 points. At the time, those were key plays for UNC during its decisive run.

-- The Tar Heels weren’t all that balanced offensively for much of the first half but didn’t particularly need to be, given the early production from James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald, who came off the bench to score nine of his 15 points in the first half. McAdoo had 15 by himself during the first 20 minutes.

Through the first 18 minutes, McAdoo, McDonald and Hairston were the only UNC players who scored.

-- Given the way it plays defense, Georgia Tech would be a formidable team if it could solve its offensive woes. The Yellow Jackets shot 39.7 percent from the field, and they were even worse from the free throw line.

They missed their first seven free throws, and made four of 11 attempts from the line. The home crowd’s groans grew louder and louder with each miss during the first half and early part of the second.

-- For the second time in two road games, UNC played in front of a starring member of the Miami Heat. Tuesday night went better for UNC than the last time it happened at Miami, where LeBron James and Dwayne Wade watched the Hurricanes’ dominant victory against the Tar Heels.

Former Georgia Tech standout and current Heat forward Chris Bosh was in attendance. So, too, was former Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson, an NFL All-Pro with the Detroit Lions.

Find the full box score from the game here.

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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