Tar Heels staying with same starting 5
Whether it was giving up the first 12 points to Virginia Tech, the first nine points to Miami, the first six points to N.C. State or eight of the first 10 points to Boston College, North Carolina consistently has gotten off to slow starts recently.
An early deficit seems like the last thing UNC wants heading into Wednesday night’s showdown at No. 2 Duke (9 p.m., WRAL). But Tar Heels coach Roy Williams has used the same starting five since conference play began, and he showed no indication he would change against the Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2 ACC).
“They’re the five best,” Williams said Monday. “They’ve won the job in practice, no question.”
Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo and senior guard Dexter Strickland have started every game this season for UNC (16-7, 6-4), while freshman point guard Marcus Paige and junior forward Reggie Bullock both have missed one game because of injuries. Sophomore center Desmond Hubert has 18 starts.
That lineup especially has struggled on the road. Tar Heel Sports Network analyst Adam Lucas calculated that the Tar Heels have never led at the under-16 timeout in any of their eight road games and have a combined deficit of 81-44. The margin in their five conference road games is 47-22.
The 87-61 loss to Miami on Saturday provided an illustration of UNC’s slow starts. The Tar Heels missed seven of their first eight shots and had four turnovers in the first 6:30 as the Hurricanes went up 13-2.
“We got off to a terrible start,” Williams said. “We didn’t run back on defense and (then we) turn it over 40 feet from the basket, and it’s two layups in a row. Had a good open shot in the corner and missed it, then we take a couple of bad shots rushing them and all of a sudden it’s (13-2).
“I think, mentally, it really bothered us.”
Still, Williams sent the same starting five back on the court to begin the second half. Miami scored five of the first seven points before Hubert was subbed out and eventually took a 15-6 run in the first five minutes after halftime to go up by 26.
If Williams was interested in shaking things up, his best options appear to be inserting P.J. Hairston, who has 70 points in 77 minutes over the past five games, or replacing Hubert, who only averages 12 minutes a game.
But Williams seems content with bringing Hairston off the bench, and he consistently has praised the defensive presence of Hubert, who has won the coaching staff’s defensive player of the game award four times in conference play.
Still, Williams said he wouldn’t hesitate to make quick substitutions. He specifically said he was worried about Paige, a 157-pound freshman who is averaging more than 30 minutes a game in conference play.
“I would like to have him at the end of the season,” Williams said. “I don’t want to wear him down.”
Williams also has shown he will go with the hot hands in crunch time. Against Virginia Tech, which was the last close game the Tar Heels have played, Williams went with Paige, McAdoo, Bullock, guard Leslie McDonald and forward Jackson Simmons for the entire final six minutes of regulation.