CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Roy Williams knew hed have to make some concessions when he began using a smaller, quicker four-guard starting lineup. He traded size for more scoring ability, and traded post defense for better offensive spacing and more opportunities to run in transition.
Going small, Williams said, has allowed the Tar Heels their best chance to be successful. But it came with costs, too. One of the primary ones was on full display on Thursday night during UNCs 68-59 victory at Clemson. Williams was pleased with the win, but irate due to his teams inability to rebound during the second half.
The Tigers, in Williams estimation, outworked and outhustled the Tar Heels after missed shots on both ends. During the final 20 minutes of UNCs sloppy victory, Clemson outrebounded the Tar Heels by 14. Williams wrote the statistic on a white board in the UNC locker room, and later he described his players as pansies.
Toughness, then, is likely to be emphasized today when the Tar Heels host Florida State at the Smith Center.
Williams in recent weeks has often recounted what led him to change UNCs lineup. Each time he tells the story, he speaks of what he told UNCs guards, that they would have to play bigger than their size and take on responsibilities that usually belong to forwards.
In particular, junior guard Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston, the sophomore whose entry into the starting lineup has invigorated the Tar Heels during the past three weeks, have been asked to take on a larger rebounding role. After he finished with a team-high nine rebounds on Thursday, Bullock said he tries to live on the boards.
Once they see me try to get to the boards, he said of his teammates, hopefully they feed off it and continue to do the same.
During the victory at Clemson, though, Bullock was the only UNC player with more than five rebounds. James Michael McAdoo, the 6-foot-9 sophomore who is the only forward in the Tar Heels starting lineup, finished with just four rebounds.
McAdoo described the Heels second-half performance on Thursday at frustrating. No one appeared more frustrated than Williams, who has rejected the thought that effective rebounding is a casualty of UNCs four-guard lineup.
Since changing the lineup before his teams loss at Duke on Feb. 13, the Tar Heels rebounding hadnt suffered dramatically. But Clemsons tall, physical front line exploited UNCs weakness. To make matters worse, Williams thought the Tigers outfought his team, too.
With the small lineup that we have, were going to struggle a little bit, Dexter Strickland, UNCs senior guard, said on Thursday. But at the same time, we cant use that as an excuse. We have to be in the right spot at the right time and thats just something we have to do a better job on.
The game against Florida State might help the Tar Heels build some confidence in their rebounding. The Seminoles are one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation. They rank last in the ACC, and 320th nationally, in defensive rebounding percentage.
When UNC and Florida State played in Tallahassee on Jan. 12, the Tar Heels outrebounded the Seminoles by 22. UNC finished with 19 offensive rebounds, and Florida State finished with 19 rebounds total. The Heels second-chance opportunities were one of the reasons they escaped with a 77-72 victory.
Much has changed for UNC in the nearly two months since that game. The Tar Heels have gone small and have become a more effective and potent offensive team.
Now, with the final regular week of the regular season approaching, Williams wants them to become tougher, too.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter