North Carolina on Saturday ended a three-game losing streak with an 82-71 victory against Boston College. Here’s the story.
And some thoughts …
1. This is a good start, but it will take a while before we know if UNC really has changed.
Change was the theme of the day on Saturday. UNC coach Roy Williams changed his starting lineup, going with Leslie McDonald and Jackson Simmons instead of Nate Britt and Joel James. And afterward, both James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige talked a lot about change, and how they’d spent much of the week trying to inspire their teammates to change their ways.
Flying back from the loss at Syracuse last weekend, McAdoo and Paige talked about how something had to give. The Tar Heels had lost their third consecutive game to start ACC play. What they were doing clearly wasn’t working. So Paige and McAdoo, UNC’s captains, called on their teammates to give more – not only in games, but in practices. The results were good on Saturday – UNC put together its most complete game in ACC play – but it will take a while before we know whether this was just a one-game thing or whether the Tar Heels really have changed their ways.
It’s one thing to talk about how you’ve changed your ways after a victory against Boston College, which limped off the Smith Center court with a 5-13 overall record. It’s another thing to show how you’ve changed against more formidable opponents. The Eagles are probably better than their record suggests but, still, you can’t ignore their struggles. UNC will face – and already has faced – far more difficult tests. One of them will come Monday night at Virginia.
2. This is what the Tar Heels need from Paige and McAdoo.
Paige and McAdoo provided leadership and direction throughout last week, and they took it upon themselves to tell their teammates that more was expected from them. Equally important, they produced on the court, too. Paige finished with 21 points, four assists and two steals, and McAdoo had 17 points and six rebounds, and he also blocked four shots, which tied his career high.
Both players asserted themselves early, and the usually-sedate McAdoo played with an outward passion and energy he’s rarely shown during his years at UNC. When McAdoo and Paige play like they do on Saturday, it benefits the Tar Heels in several ways. For one, it always helps when your two best players play well. Beyond that, though, it opens things up for everyone else.
Paige and McAdoo were a combined 13-of-19 from the floor on Saturday. They hadn’t both shot 50 percent or better from the field since the victory against UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 31. More often than not, they won’t combine to shoot as well as they did on Saturday. Still, the box score only measured some of their contributions against Boston College. Paige and McAdoo played with an energy that filtered down to the rest of the team.
3. The starting lineup appears wide open now.
It was an odd starting lineup, the one UNC went with on Saturday: Marcus Paige, Leslie McDonald, J.P. Tokoto, Jackson Simmons and James Michael McAdoo. McDonald made his second collegiate start in 100-plus games. Simmons was starting for the first time, in his 72nd game at UNC.
Clearly, Williams was searching for something amid the 0-3 start in the ACC. He said as much after the game. Did he find what he was looking for? I’m not sure. McDonald finished with 10 points, but needed 11 shots from the field to get there. Simmons went scoreless in eight minutes, but suffered a cut within the first couple of minutes that required stitches. He later returned.
The message Williams sent, though, is pretty clear: Outside of Paige and McAdoo, no role is guaranteed. Williams is looking for players who can – and will – assert themselves, and those that do just might just find their way into the starting lineup. Williams said he wasn’t sure if he’d use the lineup on Monday at Virginia.
UNC and Boston College were mostly even in three out of the four. The largest disparity between the teams was turnovers. UNC forced 18 of them, while Boston College forced 12. The Tar Heels outscored the Eagles 24-13 in points off of turnovers – and won the game by 11 points.
“As the leaders and captains of the team, you can only hear it from the coaches so many times until you just have to say, like, guys – we did it our way the first three games and it didn’t work. So we’ve got to change something. We’ve got to change the effort, we’ve got to come more committed to getting better every day in practice
“I think we just wanted to remind them that if we do what the coaches tell us, buy in, and really just commit to playing hard, then good things will happen.
“There was no screaming or foul language. But it was a serious reminder that these guys have won quite a few games, so they know what they’re talking about. Coach, he’s not crazy. He knows what he’s doing.”
-UNC sophomore guard Marcus Paige
The Tar Heels travel to Virginia for a game on Monday night. The Cavaliers are 4-1 in the ACC, and are coming off a 78-66 victory against Florida State on Saturday.