UNC overcomes sluggish first half to beat NKU
North Carolina coach Roy Williams conducted a 5 a.m. practice eight hours after his team’s poor performance against Texas last week.
After a similarly sluggish start Friday night against Northern Kentucky, Williams didn’t even want to wait that long.
The coach said he threatened to make his team run sprints at halftime, but was talked out of it by his assistants. Instead, the Tar Heels started the second half with four seldom-used, defensive-minded reserves. That move had the desired effect as No. 19 UNC held Northern Kentucky to one point in the first six minutes and pulled away to win 75-60 at the Smith Center.
Junior forward James Michael McAdoo had 12 of his 14 points in the second half and sophomore guard Marcus Paige had 11 points and a career-high nine rebounds for the Tar Heels (9-3).
Still, UNC led by just five at halftime against Northern Kentucky (4-8), which is only in its second year as a Division I school and was picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Atlantic Sun in the preseason coaches poll.
“I don’t think we had the intensity and the concentration level that we needed to have,” Williams said. “When you add both of those together I don’t think we were very sharp.”
UNC had five players who played double-digit minutes that were taller than the tallest Norse player, who stood 6-foot-7. Still, the Tar Heels were outscored in the paint 28-26 and had trouble keeping Northern Kentucky from penetrating into the lane, especially in the first half.
“They attacked. They were driving to the basket and we were shooting fadeaways,” Williams said. “We had a tremendous size advantage and one of our goals was to attack the basket and we didn’t get a single low post-up or taking the ball to the basket in the entire first half.”
Leading just 35-30 at halftime against a 27-point underdog, Williams started the second half with Paige and reserves Luke Davis, Jackson Simmons, Desmond Hubert and Webb High product Isaiah Hicks.
“It’s because I was ticked off,” Williams said. “I just wanted to try somebody different. … I wanted to was stay out at halftime and run sprints the entire freaking half. The (assistants) thought it was not the right thing to do. But God, I wanted to do that so badly."
The defensive lineup did its job, holding Northern Kentucky without a point in six possessions and capping their performance by causing a 35-second violation. Hubert even found Hicks for a dunk that led to the biggest cheers from the crowd of 18,842.
When the regulars came back in with 16:12 left, the Tar Heels led 40-30.
“Putting those five guys to start the second half, I thought they gave us a tremendous lift defensively,” Williams said. “They did some really good things for us. That sort of turned it around.”
The Norse got within seven points with 13:17 remaining, but McAdoo scored six straight points during a 7-0 run that gave UNC some breathing room and the Tar Heels led by at least 11 points for the rest of the game.
NOTES – Junior P.J. Hairston, who was ruled ineligible by UNC last week for violating NCAA rules, wasn’t on the bench during a home game for the first time this season. Williams wouldn’t say if or when Hairston will still be with the team in the future. “I have no idea,” Williams said. "He's not on our team. I love him to death, but he's not on our team.” … Starting center Joel James (sprained right MCL) missed his second straight game. The team listed him as questionable for the UNC Wilmington game on New Year’s Eve. … UNC blocked 15 shots, tied for the second-most in school history. The Tar Heels blocked an ACC-record 18 shots against Stanford in 1985.
No. 19 NORTH CAROLINA 75, NORTHERN KENTUCKY 60
Percentages: FG .333, FT .688.
3-Point Goals: 5-23, .217 (Flournoy 2-9, Danos 1-2, Monaco 1-3, White 1-4, J. Jackson 0-1, Giesler 0-1, Johnson 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Giesler 2, Johnson, Murray, Billups).
Turnovers: 8 (Billups 2, Johnson 2, J. Jackson 2, Monaco, Flournoy).
Steals: 7 (White 3, Johnson 2, Camps, Giesler).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .471, FT .677.
3-Point Goals: 6-14, .429 (Paige 3-6, McDonald 3-7, Tokoto 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 15 (Johnson 3, Hicks 3, Hubert 3, Meeks 2, Tokoto 2, McAdoo, McDonald).
Turnovers: 14 (Johnson 3, Davis 2, Paige 2, Tokoto 2, Meeks, Hubert, Britt, McAdoo, Simmons).
Steals: 6 (Tokoto 2, Simmons, Paige, McDonald, McAdoo).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Mike Eades, Sean Hull, Terry Wymer.