TAR HEELS ROLL
A series of missteps by North Carolina players in the offseason had on-the-court consequences Friday night.
With wing players P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald and J.P. Tokoto all wearing suits on the bench because of NCAA issues, the Tar Heels were left with a starting lineup of two point guards (Nate Britt and Marcus Paige), two power forwards (James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson) and a center (Joel James).
Partly as a result, UNC committed 23 turnovers and only led by seven points with 7½ minutes left before pulling away for an 82-63 win over Division II UNC Pembroke in an exhibition game at the Smith Center.
UNC also shot just 3-of-15 from behind the arc without their two best shooters, Hairston and McDonald, who sat out as the school worked with the NCAA to determine their futures.
UNC coach Roy Williams said he did not have an update on the status of either player. The first regular season game is here on Friday against Oakland (Mich.). After saying last month that he would decide Hairston’s punishment before the season started, and that he wasn’t concerned about McDonald’s NCAA issues, Williams struck a different tone after facing Pembroke.
“You have to go through the process, and we’ve understood that since Day 1,” Williams said. “There’s reasons that hasn’t been cleared up yet, so we just have to wait until the process if finished.”
UNC has not disclosed the nature of Hairston or McDonald’s potential NCAA violations. But Hairston has been pulled over by police twice while driving a rental car connected to a Durham felon, while McDonald’s image was used by a designer mouthguard company.
It’s generally against NCAA rules for athletes to receive a benefit not available to regular students or to promote products.
Without two expected starters on the wing, McAdoo played all 27 minutes at small forward, where the junior had never played in his college career, while freshman power forward Isaiah Hicks tried it for “the first time in his life,” according to Williams.
Paige, the starting point guard last year, spent most of his time at shooting guard.
Both Paige and McAdoo had five turnovers.
“I feel for Mac because it’s a big transition from playing the 4 or 5 since he’s been here to shifting to the 3 in a matter of months,” James said. “He has to learn the plays all over again. But he’s a good player. I know he can do it.”
Still, the Tar Heels had three starters that were each at least two inches taller than Pembroke’s center, and they were able to use their size to their advantage, outrebounding the Braves 56-34 and getting to the line 27 times to UNCP’s 10.
McAdoo finished with 19 points, while McAdoo had Johnson each had 10 rebounds.
“Coach said you win a lot of games by defense and rebounding the ball,” James said. “We need to make that a staple.”
James (four points, three rebounds), freshman Kennedy Meeks (six points, six rebounds) and junior Desmond Hubert (eight points, six rebounds) split time at center, a position Williams said still isn’t settled.
Britt, a freshman, also played 25 minutes as the point guard, registering six points, six assists and five steals, including four steals in the opening seven minutes.
Britt’s active defense was a positive from UNC’s lone exhibition game, which Williams referred to as a “glorified scrimmage.” UNC also made 23 of 27 free throws after unofficially going 4 of 16 from the line during the Late Night with Roy scrimmage last week. Even Hubert, who was 4 of 27 from the line in his career, made both his free throws to put the Tar Heels up 38-14 with 5:35 left in the first half — their largest lead of the game.
The Tar Heels took advantage of offensive rebounds and steals and all 10 active scholarship players scored as UNC took a 43-24 lead into the break. But Pembroke cut the deficit to 12 with 16 minutes left, and back-to-back 3s by Quamain Rose (21 points) made it 59-53 with nine minutes to play.
At 61-54 coming out of the under-8 minute media timeout, McAdoo made three straight shots to start as 12-0 run as UNC finished off Pembroke, which was coming off a 96-85 loss at N.C. State on Wednesday.
“Tonight helped us see what things work well,” Paige said. “We just have to understand what we do well in this situation until (Hairston and McDonald) come back, which should be pound the ball inside and get out on the break.”
NOTE — Tokoto will be eligible to play in the opener against Oakland. The sophomore was forced to miss the exhibition game and an earlier closed scrimmage against Vanderbilt after he played two games in a certified summer league in Milwaukee, near his hometown, without filing the proper paperwork beforehand.