UNC's 13 3s shoot McNeese State back to the bayou
One of North Carolina coach Roy Williams’s favorite sayings is that everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket.
The 23rd-ranked Tar Heels illustrated that on Saturday at the Smith Center, hitting 13 of 28 shots (46.4 percent) from behind the arc en route to a 97-63 win over McNeese State.
P.J. Hairston (3of 8 from 3-point range) scored a career-high 20 points, while Reggie Bullock was 5of 8 from long range and scored 17 points. Leslie McDonald (3-7) and Marcus Paige (2-2) — who had been a 28-percent 3-point shooter — also got into the act.
“Reggie started off hitting one and then Leslie hit one, Marcus hit one, and I came in and hit one, and it was just a train from there,” said Hairston, who also tied a career high with eight rebounds.
McNeese State (6-4) opened up in a zone, perhaps knowing that UNC (9-3) hit just 3 of 19 from behind the arc in Wednesday’s 18-point loss at Texas. But the Tar Heels made four of their first five Saturday and led 18-6 after eight minutes. By halftime it was 54-23.
“Bullock and their perimeter guys lit us up when we went zone,” Cowboys coach Dave Simmons said. “It they shoot the ball like that it is going to be tough for anybody to beat them.”
Unfortunately for UNC, the ball hasn’t always gone in as easily. The Tar Heels are 11 for 49 from 3-point range in their three losses.
UNC also helped its cause by outrebounding McNeese State 57-37, holding the Cowboys to 35.6 percent shooting and assisting on 29 of 35 field goals, including the first 12.
“Against Texas I think we tried to do a little too much on our own and tried to force shots,” Hairston said. “Texas was converting on our turnovers and getting fast-break points off of bad shots.”
No one took advantage of that more than point guard Marcus Paige. After a post-practice confidence-boosting meeting Friday with Williams, the freshman posted a season-best nine assists and had no turnovers for the first time. Paige had recorded 39 assists and 28 turnovers in his first 10 games.
“Feels good to see these numbers as a point guard,” Paige said. “Guys were making shots and because we held them to a low field-goal percentage we were able to get out and get easy baskets.”
Dexter Strickland also chipped in six assists and Bullock had four as five Tar Heels recorded three or more assists.
Unlike UNC’s last home game, when East Carolina scored 61 second-half points and cut a 16-point halftime deficit to four, the Tar Heels also kept their foot down Saturday, never letting the score get closer than 25 in the second half.
“At halftime I told the team, ‘We can’t come out in the second half and half-(play) the game and let the other team score 60 points in the second half, like we have been doing,” Hairston said. “I said, ‘We need to keep up the intensity on defense.”
Still, it wasn’t all positives for the Tar Heels. Williams felt the team still relies too much on outside shooting — “I think you live by the 3 and die by the 3,” he said — and he seems no closer to determining his fifth starter. Sophomore Desmond Hubert started for the first time since the Indiana loss on Nov. 27, but after starting the scoring with a dunk, he had all three of the team’s first-half turnovers and played a total of 10 minutes.
Brice Johnson, who started against ECU, missed his first four shots but had 10 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes, while Joel James, who started the Texas game, had four points and five rebounds in 10 minutes.
The day after the disappointing ECU game, Williams held a long practice on what was supposed to be a day off. After another disappointing effort against Texas, Williams gave the team the day off Thursday and tried a different motivational approach.
“I told them I was sick as a dog,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to be screaming in their faces making them sick, so play better.”
No. 23 UNC 97, McNeese State 63
Percentages: FG .356, FT .421. 3-Point Goals: 3-17, .176 (Mitchell 2-2, Fields 1-3, Regis 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Wells 0-1, Guidry 0-1, Eackles 0-3, Cannon 0-5). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 5 (McFerrin 4, Lewis). Turnovers: 10 (Cannon 3, Guidry 3, McFerrin, Regis, Mitchell, Eackles). Steals: 8 (Guidry 2, Mitchell 2, Hardy, Wells, Eackles, Cannon). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .473, FT .636. 3-Point Goals: 13-28, .464 (Bullock 5-8, McDonald 3-7, Hairston 3-8, Paige 2-2, Tanner 0-1, Manor 0-1, Strickland 0-1). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 3 (Hairston, Johnson, McAdoo). Turnovers: 14 (Hubert 4, Bullock 2, Strickland 2, Tanner 2, Moody, Tokoto, McAdoo, Hairston). Steals: 5 (McDonald 2, Paige, Johnson, McAdoo). Technical Fouls: None. McNeese St.2340—63 North Carolina5443—97 A—18,258. Officials—Brian Dorsey, Jerry Heater, Dwayne Gladden.