Tar Heels find some balance
At the end of every contest, North Carolina radio voice Jones Angell announces the player of the game.
Recently it’s been an easy decision — in UNC’s previous two games, Reggie Bullock scored a career-high 24 points against Maryland and P.J. Hairston scored a career-high 23 against Florida State.
But after Wednesday night’s 79-63 win over Georgia Tech, Angell couldn’t pick anyone. There were solid contributions up and down the lineup.
Bullock led the team again with 17 points, while James Michael McAdoo (14 points) was one rebound shy of a double-double. Hairston added 15 points off the bench and provided the game’s signature moment, a powerful slam over 6-11 center Daniel Miller, who leads the ACC in blocks.
Guards Dexter Strickland and Marcus Paige had six assists and four rebounds each while combining for five turnovers, and Strickland added three steals.
Sophomore Desmond Hubert, whose hold on the fifth starting spot has been puzzling at times, had a career-high five blocks and six rebounds in a career-high 24 minutes, while freshman J.P. Tokoto, who had scored seven points in his first four ACC games, had eight points, four rebounds and two assists on Wednesday.
“Really can’t choose just one player of the game tonight,” Angell wrote on Twitter. “Team win tonight and a good one!”
The improved depth was a good sign for the Tar Heels (13-5, 3-2 ACC) heading into a stretch in which four of the next six games are on the road, starting Saturday against N.C. State in Raleigh (7 p.m., ESPN).
After winning three straight conference games following an 0-2 start, Bullock felt the team was rounding a corner.
“We still have a lot more work to do and there’s a lot of the season left, but I’m just glad that we’ve pulled it together as a team and we just have to fix a little more things and we’ll be there,” Bullock said.
Another positive step, and a possible sign of maturity in a young team, was the lack of suspense in the second half against the Yellow Jackets (10-7, 0-5).
When UNC led Maryland by 22 at halftime Saturday in its previous game, the Tar Heels went into cruise control in the second half, shooting 23.5 percent while allowing the Terrapins to shoot 46.2 percent.
“Second half Saturday, we looked like we were in a ‘Thriller’ video from Michael Jackson,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We look up, we’re all dead walking around out there.”
But after going up by 15 early in the second half against the Yellow Jackets, the Tar Heels stayed focused, maintained a sense of urgency and never let Georgia Tech get closer than 11.
UNC especially was impressive in transition, getting 15 points off 19 turnovers and outscoring the Yellow Jackets 14-5 on the fast break.
“When we’re in the open court and transition, it’s an automatic bucket and it should be,” Strickland said. “Our guys do a great job of pushing the ball. Marcus (Paige) does a great job of pushing the ball, looking up and Reggie running the wings. I think we do a great job in transition.”
Still, Williams saw plenty of areas for improvement, even in the transition game.
“It’s easier to score when the defense isn’t set, and that generally starts with good play on the defensive end, either getting a turnover or a missed shot and running,” Williams said. “We haven’t gotten established yet being able to run after a make, which our teams in the past have always done really well. But we haven’t done that really well.”