Tar Heels rusty in victory against Northern Kentucky

CorrespondentDecember 27, 2013 

— Roy Williams said five days of Christmas vacation might have been too much for his North Carolina basketball team.

The No. 19 Tar Heels might have had too much rust to run Northern Kentucky out of the Smith Center on Friday night, but they had enough advantage in size and talent to claim a 75-60 victory.

James Michael McAdoo had 14 points and Marcus Paige – who added a career-best nine rebounds – and Leslie McDonald chipped in 11 each as North Carolina (9-3) won the first meeting between the teams.

“I probably gave them too much time at Christmas,” said Williams, whose team blocked 15 shots. “On Saturday we let them go (after the win against Davidson) and we didn’t bring them back until 7 o’clock last night. We were not sharp, to say the least. I didn’t think we had the intensity and the concentration level we needed to have.

“Who knows how many times we were passing the ball to each other instead of shooting and it goes out of bounds? We didn’t get a single low post-up the entire first half.”

Tyler White led the Norse (4-8) with 13 points, Jalen Billups added 12 and Jordan Jackson and Jack Flournoy 10 each for Northern Kentucky, members of the Atlantic Sun Conference and in their second season in NCAA Division I.

North Carolina shot 47.1 percent to the visitors’ 33.3 and won the rebound battle 42-32, but committed 14 turnovers to just eight for Northern Kentucky.

“We’ve struggled to get out of the gate, and we did it again tonight and then again in the second half,” said Norse coach Dave Bezold, whose team had a three-game win streak end. “They got that comfortable 10- to 15-point lead and we were really unable to make enough plays or stops to put pressure on them.”

North Carolina led 35-30 at halftime. The score was tied 2-2 before the Tar Heels went on a 12-0 run, with McDonald’s 3-pointer at 11:36 making it 19-5.

“I’m feeling pretty confident,” said UNC’s McDonald, who missed the season’s first nine games for receiving impermissible benefits. “Shots were going down and that’s definitely a confidence-booster. I’ve still got to get the rust out and still have to play better defense.”

North Carolina led by 14 on three occasions in the half before the Norse rallied, cutting the lead to 33-30 on Billups’ follow slam of Flournoy’s missed 3-point attempt with 47 seconds left.

The Tar Heels increased their lead to double digits by scoring the first five points of the second half, making it 40-30 when Desmond Hubert saved a pass from going out of bounds and served it back to Isaiah Hicks who finished with a thunderous two-handed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet at 17:42.

“We just did what coach said on that play,” Hicks said. “We just ran the floor. Desmond looked back and there I was.”

Northern Kentucky never again got the margin under seven points, and North Carolina’s biggest lead was 15.

Former Tar Heels player P.J. Hairston, last week declared permanently ineligible because of NCAA violations, was missing from the bench at a home game for the first time this season.

“I’m trying to coach the guys I have,” Williams said. “I have no idea. I love him to death, but he’s not on our team.”

The Tar Heels’ next game is on Tuesday at 5 p.m. against visiting UNC Wilmington.

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