Tar Heels back on winning track after taking down B.C.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he started guard Leslie McDonald Saturday against Boston College even though “I don’t know that Leslie had done enough to deserve it.”
He also gave a starting nod at center to Jackson Simmons, who only averaged 7.5 minutes a game, even though he acknowledged the 6-7 junior was “undersized for the position.”
But desperate times called for desperate measures, and after losing three straight games to start conference play, Williams felt he had to do something.
Sure enough, a desperate UNC team finally looked like the running and scoring Tar Heels of old, and the result was its first win in 2014.
UNC (11-6, 1-3 ACC) shot better than 50 percent in each half and never trailed after the first four minutes, eventually pulling away for an 82-71 win over the Eagles (5-13, 1-4) at the Smith Center.
Marcus Paige (21 points) led five players in double figures as the Tar Heels avoided their first-ever 0-4 start in the ACC.
“We are just very, very pleased, relieved — you can put any adjective that you want to in there,” Williams said. “But it is a much better feeling in that locker room.”
UNC hadn’t made 40 percent or more of its shots in any of its three previous ACC games and was coming off a 45-point performance last Saturday at Syracuse, matching a shot clock-era low total for the program.
With a week off between games, Williams added more experience to the lineup, replacing freshman point guard Nate Britt with McDonald, a redshirt senior who was making his second career start, and replacing sophomore center Joel James with Simmons, a junior who was making his first.
“I don’t want to sit back and not do anything,” Williams said. “So we tried to change it up.”
The changes didn’t make much difference — McDonald (3 of 11) continued his shooting slump and Simmons was elbowed in the forehead 1:47 into the game (he needed four stitches) and played just eight total minutes. The bigger factor was playing against the Eagles, who had lost 8 of their last 9 against Division I competition and were last in the league in field goal percentage defense.
Paige shot 7 of 10 from the field and recorded 20 points for the sixth time this season despite taking just one shot in the second half. Sophomore J.P. Tokoto added 14 points, five rebounds, career-high six assists and three steals and junior James Michael McAdoo 17 points, six rebounds and four blocks.
Freshman center Kennedy Meeks was also a difference-maker down the stretch. After playing just two minutes in the first half, Meeks had 10 points and six rebounds after halftime and played the final 13:23.
“We always need one of our big guys to step up and complement James Michael, and today it was Kennedy,” Paige said. “If he’s playing that hard all the time — today he was getting tip-outs, getting to the loose balls — that’s the kind of effort we need from him. If we can get him to give that effort consistently, then he’s going to really help us.”
McAdoo had eight points in the first 5:20 and UNC scored on seven straight possessions during an early 16-2 run to go up 20-9.
“I was able to start off quick today,” McAdoo said. “And I think that just helps me get the rest of my teammates involved and just it just takes the pressure off everyone as a whole.”
The Tar Heels, who hadn’t scored more than 35 points in a half in ACC play before Saturday, reached 36 at halftime and then added 46 in the second half.
The Eagles were 11 of 23 from behind the arc and got within 56-55 with 10:15 left, but the UNC defense allowed just two more field goals over the next 9:50.
BC had led No. 2 Syracuse by five midway through the second half in its previous game before allowing 14 unanswered points.
“I guess the thing I’m disappointed in is our execution in the last six minutes, similar to Syracuse,” Eagles coach Steve Donahue said. “It’s what gets us…. To win in this league on the road against a team like Carolina, you’ve got to execute for 40 minutes.”
For the first time in conference play, it wasn’t Williams who left a UNC game disappointed.
|NORTH CAROLINA 82, BOSTON COLLEGE 71|
Percentages: FG .438, FT .692.
3-Point Goals: 11-23, .478 (Jackson 4-6, Odio 3-4, Rahon 3-6, Hanlan 1-4, Owens 0-1, Dragicevich 0-1, Heckmann 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Magarity, Hanlan).
Turnovers: 18 (Hanlan 6, Jackson 4, Anderson 3, Magarity 2, Heckmann, Rahon, Owens).
Steals: 7 (Jackson 3, Anderson, Hanlan, Heckmann, Dragicevich).
Technical Fouls: Bench.
Percentages: FG .527, FT .667.
3-Point Goals: 4-12, .333 (Paige 2-4, McDonald 2-7, Tokoto 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 6 (McAdoo 4, Meeks, Paige).
Turnovers: 12 (Tokoto 3, Paige 3, McAdoo 2, Johnson, Hicks, Britt, Meeks).
Steals: 9 (Tokoto 3, Paige 2, Johnson 2, McDonald, Meeks).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Tim Nestor, Tim Comer, William Covington.