Tar Heels get back to action

Dec. 08, 2012 @ 01:00 AM

Study breaks come in many different forms. For the players at No. 20 North Carolina, who are in the midst of first semester final exams, it means a basketball game today at the Smith Center against East Tennessee State (7:30 p.m., ESPN3).
“Exam time is not very easy,” UNC coach Roy Williams said Friday on Inside Carolina Basketball. “The kids have a lot of responsibilities, and you want to get a little time out on the court but not let that be the most important thing. Still, every Saturday we’re playing games, so you still have to be able to do some things.”
It should help the Tar Heels (6-2) that their opponent isn’t expected to pose a serious challenge. The Buccaneers (2-4), who lost by 25 at James Madison on Wednesday night and by 18 at Virginia Tech, are 255th in Ken Pomeroy’s Division I ratings.
Tonight’s contest is the only UNC game that won’t be on television this season (it will be available online via ESPN3.com).
UNC also is expected to have its full team together for the first time since Oct. 21. Third-leading scorer P.J. Hairston missed the Indiana game on Oct. 27 with a knee sprain, and starting point guard Marcus Paige missed the UAB game a week ago with a jammed shoulder.
Paige’s X-rays Monday were negative, and he participated fully in UNC’s practices on Wednesday and Friday. Team spokesman Matt Bowers said that Paige, Hairston and Reggie Bullock — who had a contusion on his right ring finger after his hand was stepped on in the game against Indiana — were all listed as probable to play tonight.
Against UAB, Dexter Strickland made his first career start at point guard and recorded a personal-best nine assists, while guard Leslie McDonald moved into the starting lineup for the first time and recorded career-highs of 24 points and five assists.
Even if everyone is healthy, the lineup may still be in flux. Three different players have started at center — sophomore Desmond Hubert, who has the most starts (six) but the fewest minutes (80); freshman Brice Johnson, who has scored in double figures in three straight games; and freshman Joel James, who started against UAB but had two points and three rebounds in 12 minutes.
Williams also has talked about going smaller and using Hairston as the power forward and James Michael McAdoo, who leads the team in scoring (15.8) and rebounding (9.3), as the lone post player.
The semester may be wrapping up, but UNC clearly still is in the learning stages of its season.
“It’s a difficult time period to get them thinking strictly about basketball,” Williams said. “But for the 2.5 hours that we’re in the Smith Center working, let’s work and do it very, very well.”
NOTES — UNC’s most recent meeting against East Tennessee State was 25 years ago, when Williams was an assistant coach under Dean Smith. The Tar Heels won 118-65. ... Orange County Toys for Tots will be collecting donation outside the Smith Center and at the Friday Center park-and-ride lot. The program is expected to help 5,000 Orange County children who otherwise would go without gifts during the holidays.