McAdoo, Heels needed win like the one vs. UNLV
James Michael McAdoo said that North Carolina’s first practice after the Christmas break was the hardest one of the season — and not just because junior Reggie Bullock collided into McAdoo and suffered a mild concussion while trying to break up a long pass.
Instead, the grueling practice on Thursday came because of an underwhelming start to the season that left UNC with three double-digit losses and no high-quality wins to balance them out.
“The first 12 games, we didn’t play like we thought we should have played and I think that showed,” McAdoo said. “Coming back and practicing (after Christmas), something had to change. I’m not a genius; I don’t know what it was, but something had to change.”
The Tar Heels certainly changed the tenor of their season Saturday with a 79-73 win over No. 20 UNLV at the Smith Center. Whether it carries over into conference play remains to be seen — UNC starts the ACC campaign Sunday at Virginia (8 p.m., ESPNU) — but the Tar Heels finally were able to celebrate a big win.
“They’re 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids — who knows what they’re going to do tomorrow?” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “(But we’ve had) 47 practices and 14 games (including an exhibition), and that’s the first time we’ve been able to feel really good about what we did.”
Bullock, who Williams said was playing better than anyone else on the team, didn’t play against UNLV because of his concussion. That meant McAdoo was the No. 1 option on offense, and he seemed to struggle under the pressure early, making just 1 of 8 shots in the first half.
But the sophomore stayed aggressive and made 4 of 5 shots in the second half.
McAdoo’s biggest contribution came after UNLV came back from a 15-point deficit to take its only lead at 49-48 with 14 minutes remaining. McAdoo responded with a personal 6-0 run, scoring on a putback and a 3-point play and making 1 of 2 after drawing the third foul on Runnin’ Rebels honorable mention All-America Mike Moser.
“The thing I told him is, ‘Just slow down,’” Williams said. “He tries to go so fast and wants to do so well. He wants to be a great player, wants to make every shot, but he just goes so fast instead of taking that extra split second and that makes a big difference in your foundation, your balance, everything.”
McAdoo was far from the only contributor. Sophomore P.J. Hairston, who made his first career start in place of Bullock, played a career-high 32 minutes and had 15 points, four rebounds and four steals and took two charges.
Freshman Brice Johnson continued his efficient play with 12 points (6-of-8 shooting), four rebounds and three steals in 15 minutes. And sophomore Desmond Hubert played a career-high 20 minutes and started to show why Williams keeps writing his name in the starting lineup despite limited production.
Hubert blocked a shot on each of UNLV’s first two possessions, including one on a jumper by top freshman Anthony Bennett, setting the tone for a first half in which UNLV shot 37.9 percent and trailed by nine at halftime.
“The good news for me, and Desmond knows this, he’s got about another 100 levels of intensity that he can go to,” Williams said. “I need him to be active. I need him to be ready at all times. He’s got to have his motor going at 100 miles per hour; he can’t be going at 50. That’s been his problem.
“But he played a very effective 20 minutes for us today, and it’s something that we needed him to do.”
Hubert’s production couldn’t have come at a better time — he thought earlier in the month that Williams would want to have the center position settled by ACC play. In fact, it could be argued that the whole team needed a performance like Saturday’s heading into the new year.
“It’s great, because the team hasn’t showed up all year against a big team,” Hairston said. “And this was the game to do it.”