Bullock, Tar Heels discuss ways to bounce back
North Carolina junior forward Reggie Bullock didn’t want to look back on the season and wonder if he could have done more.
So after the Tar Heels (10-4, 0-1 ACC) dissected the tape of Sunday’s conference-opening loss at Virginia, Bullock helped initiate a players-only meeting on Monday that he hoped would turn around the team’s fortunes.
“Coach can tell us all the things he wants to tell us, but it’s up to us to perform the job that he wants us to do,” Bullock said. “I thought it was my time to step up.”
UNC’s first chance to put words into action is tonight at the Smith Center against Miami (7 p.m., ESPNU), as the Tar Heels hope to avoid starting 0-2 in the ACC for the fourth time ever.
Bullock, lone senior Dexter Strickland and sophomore leading scorer James Michael McAdoo spoke at the meeting and discussed how to get back on track by translating positive practice habits into game situations.
Though Coach Roy Williams said the team was performing well defensively in practice, the Tar Heels allowed Virginia to shoot 52 percent in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena, which dropped UNC to 0-3 in road games.
“We play great defense in practice,” Bullock said. “We’re in the right position at the right time. But when we have 20,000 people around watching us play, it seems like people freeze up, are just lackadaisical or just not being in the right spot at right time.”
He said that the mood wasn’t frustration or anger, and he doesn’t sense any selfishness within the team. But he wanted to give his teammates the opportunity to get things off their chest.
Bullock said that Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson called a similar meeting last year when UNC lost by 33 at Florida State, after which the Tar Heels finished their ACC campaign 12-1.
Those players — along with point guard Kendall Marshall and senior leader Justin Watts — no longer are on the team, forcing Bullock into a leadership role.
“I feel like it should start now,” Bullock said. “We shouldn’t wait until the season is over to say, ‘We should have done this; we should have done that.’
“(We should be) able to start now, change the little things that can make us a better team.”
During a news conference Wednesday, Williams gave a long list of things that UNC needed to improve upon, including more inside scoring, more free throws, fewer turnovers from the post players, more consistent outside shooting and better handling of dribble penetration.
But Williams said he wasn’t ready to panic. He remembered something said when, after the 2010 team finished 20-17, Deon Thompson spoke at the postseason banquet.
“We had had a sorry year, and (Thompson) said the greatest thing about Coach Williams is every day he came to practice and tried to make us feel like we can get this turned around,” Williams said. “I’m going to do that. I can guaran-dadgum-tee you, if I play 17 holes and I’m 900 over par, I’m going to try and birdie the last sucker.”
Williams said he never asks players what goes on in their meetings. But he did give a subtle message in a thought of the day that he gave the team Tuesday.
“Great intentions are OK, but you need to act,” Williams said. “That’s what you need to do. Put up or shut up.”
McDonald tweaks knee
Reserve guard Leslie McDonald tweaked his surgically repaired right knee and may not play against Miami. The junior did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday, and Williams said he did not know what his availability would be for tonight.
McDonald redshirted the 2011-12 season after tearing the ACL and damaging the meniscus in his right knee. He is averaging 8.4 points in 17.9 minutes and is shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range.
UNC has won 10 straight against Miami dating to 2006, but the Hurricanes (10-3, 1-0) started ACC play by handing Georgia Tech its first loss at the new McCamish Pavilion.
Former Southern High School star Julian Gamble, a sixth-year senior, is averaging 5.9 points and 4.2 rebounds for the Hurricanes.
Miami won’t have bulky center Reggie Johnson (left thumb fracture), who was averaging a double-double, but Kenny Kadji has posted 14.2 pts and 9.0 rebounds over the past four games with Johnson out.
Senior guard Durand Scott, the Hurricanes’ leading scorer (14.2 points), missed the first three games of the season but has been held below 15 points only twice since then.