UNC gets by Clemson 68-59 despite rebounding woes

acarter@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2013 

— While North Carolina players emptied their lockers and packed their bags after their 68-59 victory against Clemson on Thursday night, one sentence remained written on the white board, in bold black ink, in the Tar Heels locker room.

It read: “We got outrebounded by 14 in the second half.” There were exclamation points at the end.

That same sentence, the one written on the white board, was one of the first things UNC coach Roy Williams said when he met with reporters after the game.

“Can’t have that and be very good,” Williams said of his team’s inability to rebound during the second half. “We got sloppy. We did about everything you could do (to lose). The second half, we played about like how I feel, which is not good.”

Williams’ voice was hoarse and scratchy. He sounded slightly sick, and his team’s performance during the second half wasn’t exactly an elixir.

By the time Williams met with his players in the locker room, their play during the first 20 minutes – when they ended the first half on a 20-6 run that gave UNC (20-8, 10-5 ACC) a 38-24 halftime lead – was but a distant memory. Indeed, Williams liked a lot about how the Tar Heels played before halftime.

Yet that wasn’t fresh in his mind afterward. His team’s inability to secure missed shots was, though. As were UNC’s seven second-half turnovers. At halftime the Tar Heels held a 21-16 margin in rebounding, and that’s the kind of statistic that pleases Williams. He tried to explain what happened after halftime.

“They were going after the ball,” he said of Clemson. “We were acting like a bunch of pansies. I mean, we were standing there.”

Told that Williams had described him and his teammates as “pansies,” Reggie Bullock, UNC’s junior guard, didn’t disagree. Nor was he surprised at the description.

“That’s one of coach Williams’ favorite words,” Bullock said. “But he was right. At times we were soft.”

Ever since Williams changed his starting lineup and went small with four guards, the 6-foot-7 Bullock has taken on more rebounding responsibility. He tied his season high with 13 rebounds in a victory on Saturday against N.C. State, and he led the Heels with nine rebounds on Thursday at Littlejohn Coliseum.

None of his teammates, though, had more than five rebounds. James Michael McAdoo, the lone forward in UNC’s starting lineup, finished with just four.

“I don’t think any of us are happy with the way we played,” said McAdoo, who finished with 11 points and two blocked shots. “We just didn’t come out and perform the way we know we’re capable of performing, which can be frustrating.”

Even so, the Tar Heels won with relative ease. Their 20-6 run to close the first half came after the game had been tied at 18. After that run, UNC maintained a double-digit lead for most of the remainder of the game.

Dexter Strickland, who led UNC with 16 points, gave the Tar Heels a 16-point lead with a dunk with about seven minutes to play. The transition dunk, Strickland’s second of the half, represented two of UNC’s 13 fast-break points.

“And then we just sort of screwed around,” Williams said.

Clemson (13-14, 5-10) lived up to its reputation as one of the worst offensive teams in the ACC. The Tigers, led by 25 points from senior forward Devin Booker, shot 39.7 percent from the field, and their inability to make 3-pointers – they made just four of their 17 attempts – kept them from making a serious run in the second half.

Still, the Tigers are known for making things difficult, even ugly, for their opponents. But Williams rejected the thought that Clemson forced his team to play ugly on Thursday night.

“To me, that would be a big-time excuse,” Williams said. “The way somebody else plays doesn’t mean you should turn the ball over and it doesn’t mean you should miss free throws and the things that we did. …

“Marcus (Paige) had zero turnovers in the first half and made two of the worst turnovers in the second half he’s ever made in his life. His mother was screaming at him on TV – I could hear her all the way down here."

After a short rant, Williams came back to his central point: “We just played sloppy as you could possibly play.”

Since going small earlier this month, the Tar Heels have mostly been successful. They won their fourth consecutive game on Thursday, yet it was a victory that came with lessons, and with admonishing words from Williams, who called on his team to quit being so soft and play with more toughness.

See the box score from the game

Observations

--When it’s loud and rocking, Littlejohn Coliseum can be one of the most difficult places to play in the ACC. Yet it wasn’t so on Thursday night. The Tar Heels took the sold-out crowd out of the game early. UNC led from the beginning, and never trailed. Clemson tied the game twice in the first half, but after the second time the game was tied the Heels closed the half on a 20-6 run and never relinquished control.

--Dexter Strickland, UNC’s senior guard, continued his late-season transformation at Clemson. Strickland early in the season struggled to regain his old form after a suffering a season-ending knee injury in January 2012. He labored through preseason conditioning drills, and struggled to regain his speed. It was on display on Thursday, though. Strickland’s 16 points were his season high for an ACC game. He also added four assists, and made seven of his nine attempts from the field.

--UNC coach Roy Williams wants James Michael McAdoo, the sophomore forward, to play with more authority in the post. McAdoo missed eight of his 13 attempts from the field. He had difficulty scoring inside against Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, Clemson’s two physical post players. Williams said he told McAdoo that he has “got to finish the ball around the basket. You’ve got to finish plays.” Said Williams: “You go in there, you’re big, strong, jump like crazy. Finish plays.”

--Asked a question by a local reporter about UNC’s history amid another 20-win season – its 40th in the past 43 seasons – Williams spoke of Dean Smith’s legacy and acknowledged Smith’s 82nd birthday, which was Thursday. Williams and the UNC coaching staff celebrated Smith’s birthday, with Smith, in the UNC basketball offices on Wednesday.

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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