North Carolina sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo scored 15 of his 22 points during the first half on Tuesday night. ROBERT WILLETT
ATLANTA — Getting ready to make the drive north after North Carolina’s 70-58 victory here last night against Georgia Tech. It wasn’t always pretty – and at times was ugly, as Roy Williams pointed out – but this was an important victory for the Tar Heels, who are learning how to run.
Onto the look back …
Three things to take away from UNC’s victory:
1. The Tar Heels are becoming a faster, more transition-oriented team.
No, UNC still isn’t running the way Williams wants his to run. He’s made that clear more than once recently. But there are signs that the Heels are getting closer. The latest of those came in the form of 14 fast break points on Tuesday night. Those were important because they allowed UNC to score before Georgia Tech had a chance to set its defense. And the Yellow Jackets are a good defensive team, which entered the night ranked 13th nationally in field goal percentage defense. The Heels took advantage of transition opportunities in the second half, especially.
2. James Michael McAdoo found his offensive groove.
Entering Tuesday night McAdoo had been quiet, at least offensively, in the two games since the Tar Heels went small. He scored nine points in the loss last week at Duke, and nine again in the victory against Virginia on Saturday. But he had 15 at halftime at Georgia Tech, and ended up with 22 points. McAdoo said afterward that the small lineup has affected him most defensively and in rebounding, where he’s taken on more responsibility down low. Offensively, though, he said the dynamics of his role haven’t changed much.
3. P.J. Hairston wasn’t a defensive liability in the post.
Duke and Virginia both present some challenges on the interior, but UNC on Tuesday night faced its most difficult test to date since going small. Georgia Tech’s frontcourt features the 7-foot Daniel Miller, as well as brawny forwards Robert Carter, Jr., and Kammeon Holsey, both of whom are taller than 6-foot-8. It was fair to wonder how P.J. Hairston, UNC’s 6-foot-5 guard who has been starting at power forward, would fare. He did well. Neither team really exploited its mismatch – Hairston on the perimeter against bigger, slower players; Georgia Tech on the inside against the smaller Hairston – but Hairston proved he can hold his own inside against bigger players.
Georgia Tech shot better overall and did a better job of creating second-chance points through offensive rebounds. But turnovers significantly hurt the Yellow Jackets, who also didn’t do a good job of getting to the free throw line (or making those shots when they got there).
It was close throughout but UNC blew the game open with an 18-4 run in the second half. It was never really in doubt from there.
UNC PLAYER OF THE GAME
James Michael McAdoo finished with another double-double – 22 points and 11 rebounds – and he helped keep the Tar Heels going in the first half while they struggled on the perimeter. McAdoo took 19 shots from the field, and still had some issues finishing around the rim, but this was his best overall game since the Heels went small last week.
OBSERVATIONS AND NOTES
--For all the talk of the challenges that P.J. Hairston would encounter while guarding Georgia Tech’s taller, stronger, front court players, Hairston held up well defensively. Hairston, UNC’s 6-foot-5 guard, has started at power forward since the Tar Heels went to a smaller starting lineup last week. Hairston said he enjoyed the challenges that came with guarding more physical players, and he was effective, too. None of Georgia Tech’s frontcourt players scored more than Kammeon Holsey’s 10 points.
--UNC coach Roy Williams said last week that his team still isn’t playing as fast as he wants it to. Yet Dexter Strickland did his best to pick up the pace during the second half on Tuesday night. Strickland sprinted up the court and passed ahead to Reggie Bullock for a pair of layups that extended the Heels’ lead to eight and 12 points. At the time, those were key plays for UNC during its decisive run in which it took control of the game.
--The Tar Heels weren’t all that balanced offensively for much of the first half but didn’t particularly need to be given the early production from James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald, who came off the bench to score nine of his 15 points in the first half. McAdoo had 15 by himself during the first 20 minutes. Through the first 18 minutes of the game, McAdoo, McDonald and P.J. Hairston were the only UNC players who had scored.
--Given the way it plays defense, Georgia Tech would be a formidable team if it could solve its offensive woes. The Yellow Jackets shot just 39.7 percent from the field, and they were even worse from the free throw line .The Jackets missed their first seven free throws, and made just four of their 11 attempts from the line. The home crowd’s groans grew louder and louder with each miss during the first half and early part of the second.
--For the second time in two road games, UNC played in front of a starring member of the Miami Heat. Tuesday night went better for UNC than the last time it happened at Miami, where LeBron James and Dwayne Wade watched the Hurricanes’ dominant victory against the Heels. Former Georgia Tech standout and current Heat forward Chris Bosh was in attendance on Tuesday. So, too, was former Tech receiver Calvin Johnson, and NFL All-Pro with the Detroit Lions.
“Reggie (Bullock) had three layups in the second half on the break, and we didn’t handle it real well. But I do like that we’re trying to run. Reggie and Leslie had two-on-one, throw it out of bounds, and don’t get a shot. And James Michael throws it off a guy’s leg one time. But we’re going to keep trying to run and try to get faster.” –UNC coach Roy Williams
“He’s the guy that all the experts wanted me to take out. He’s been pretty doggone good the last three games.” –Williams, on Dexter Strickland
“I love it. It makes teams have to transition in their starting lineup. It gives us an opportunity to have another scorer on the court, and it just really spaces out the floor. We’re able to space out the floor, let James Michael work, let the guards drive in and do their thing and kick it out and have unbelievable shots.” –Leslie McDonald, on UNC’s small lineup
“I just think it puts a lot more of the rebounding burden on me, knowing that I’m the biggest guy on the court. I think it really helps me focus in more on crashing the boards and boxing out good every time on the defensive and offensive boards – and kind of just being that force in the middle.” –James Michael McAdoo, on how the small lineup has changed things for him
UNC hosts N.C. State on Saturday. A victory for the Tar Heels, who suffered a 91-83 defeat against the Wolfpack in Raleigh, would go a long ways toward strengthening their NCAA tournament resume.