Tar Heels host Deacs, look to get healthy
With home-and-home series against every other team in the top seven of the ACC standings, North Carolina may have the toughest conference schedule in the league.
Still, amidst all the challenges, there appeared to be one relatively easy stretch for the Tar Heels — a three-game span that concludes today against Wake Forest at the Smith Center (7 p.m., ESPNU).
UNC has faced some unexpected adversity during that time — high-scoring guard P.J. Hairston suffered a first-half concussion in a win at Boston College, and the team’s two most accurate 3-point shooters went cold in an overtime win against Virginia Tech on Saturday — but the Tar Heels (15-6, 5-3 ACC) still can finish the stretch without damaging their résumé if they beat Wake Forest (10-11, 3-6) tonight.
Against the Hokies, UNC received an unexpected contribution on offense from freshman point guard Marcus Paige, who personally outscored Virginia Tech 8-5 in overtime as the Tar Heels scored on all nine of their extra possessions.
“Virginia Tech really made us look bad for a huge portion of the game, and yet I was very pleased that we were able to win without P.J. and with Reggie (Bullock) and Leslie (McDonald) going 1-of-13 from the 3-point line,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “It was a good experience for Marcus Paige to step up.”
UNC might need another outburst today to make up for the expected absence of Hairston, who Williams listed as doubtful. The sophomore guard was scheduled to practice Monday for the first time since he collided with teammate Dexter Strickland a week ago, but he got a flu bug and was hooked up to an IV in the hospital on Monday morning.
“I think that’ll postpone some of the things that he could do (Monday) in practice that could have got him ready,” Williams said. “I’m not saying he’s not going to play, but I think it’s highly unlikely.”
Hairston wasn’t the only ailing player — starting center Desmond Hubert also was sick, and power forward James Michael McAdoo, who has three straight double-doubles, was held out Sunday as a precaution because he hurt his back at the end of the Virginia Tech game.
Still, the injury news isn’t all bad. McAdoo and Hubert are expected back, and Williams said that he felt like Strickland was 100 percent healthy on defense Saturday for the first time since the senior tore his ACL during the 2011-12 season.
Strickland, Paige, Bullock and McDonald were responsible for holding the nation’s leading scorer, Virginia Tech’s Erick Green, to 7-of-21 shooting and 16 points, his second-lowest total of the season.
While the Hokies have one main focus on offense, Wake Forest has two. Junior forward Travis McKie is one of four players who are in the top eight in the ACC in both scoring (15.0) and rebounding (7.9) — the list also includes McAdoo and Duke’s Mason Plumlee — and three-year captain C.J. Harris, a senior guard, is third in career points among conference players.
But the other three starters for the Demon Deacons are freshmen — forward Devin Thomas and guards Codi Miller-McIntyre and Madison Jones.
Wake Forest hasn’t been competitive in its past two road games, falling behind by 30 in the first half of an 82-62 loss at Georgia Tech and allowing Maryland to shoot 74 percent in the first half of an 86-60 loss to the Terrapins. The Demon Deacons also have road losses at fellow lower-echelon schools Clemson and Virginia Tech.
Three of the starters are North Carolina natives — Harris is from Winston-Salem, Jones is from Raleigh and Miller-McIntyre is from Concord — and reserve forward Aaron Rountree III is from Wilson, so coach Jeff Bzdelik hopes his team will be focused against the Tar Heels.
“I think that obviously the name across their chest will resonate,” Bzdelik said. “That’s just natural, especially with so many players on our roster from this state. But at the same time, you have to play well, and we know that they’re going to play well.”
NOTES — This will be the third straight year that the in-state opponents have just one scheduled meeting. UNC has won three in a row against Wake Forest and has more wins against the Demon Deacons (154) than any other opponent.