North Carolina (4-0) provided a glimpse into its offensive potential in the second half at Long Beach State on Friday - defense creating transition opportunities with James Michael McAdoo’s inside play being complemented by efficient 3-point shooting.
That quality of play carried over to UNC’s opening game at the EA Sports Maui Invitational – a 95-49 victory. Reggie Bullock (11 points, 3-of-4 3s in 1H) drilled a 3-pointer to start the scoring, Dexter Strickland picked up a steal and scored in transition and then Desmond Hubert and McAdoo combined for North Carolina’s next 10 points.
The Tar Heels strung together three scoring spurts – 9-0, 9-0 and 11-0 – to build a 29-6 less than 10 minutes into the contest.
Mississippi State, playing with just six scholarship players due to injury, suspension and attrition, missed 28 of its 35 first-half field goal attempts and dished out just three assists against 10 turnovers.
“Our first objective on defense is to get steals and turnovers and turn them into fast break points,” junior guard Leslie McDonald said following the game.
North Carolina, on the other hand, shot 54.3 percent (19-of-35) from the floor in the opening half, including a 57.1 percent (8-of-14) from long range. P.J. Hairston’s 70-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer served as an appropriate bookend for the half as UNC took a 49-17 lead into the locker room.
The second half was more of the same. UNC held Mississippi State to 28.3 percent shooting for the game (17-of-60, 2-of-17 on 3s) and forced 21 turnovers. The Tar Heels countered with a 47.4 percent shooting display (37-of-78), including a 15-of-32 effort from 3-point territory.
UNC’s 15 3-pointers are the fourth-most in a game in school history.
After missing 30 of their first 40 3-pointers this season, the Tar Heels have made 22 of their last 42 since the 15:52 mark of the second half in Friday’s win at Long Beach State.
On Monday, UNC dominated every statistical category – rebounds (47-43), points in the paint (36-22), points off turnovers (34-13), second-chance points (24-6), fast break points (18-6) and bench scoring (51-8) – but the game wasn’t as flawless as the scoreboard would suggest.
Williams spent a chunk of time midway through the first half ferociously animated on the sideline in front of the UNC bench, making it clear to his team that the large advantage on the scoreboard was secondary to playing smart and disciplined.
The Tar Heels allowed 11 first-half offensive rebounds and were inconsistent in their offensive sets for stretches of time.
“I think we gave up too many second-shot opportunities in the middle of the first half and then we had turnovers on like three out of five possessions,” Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “And just silly passes. It started out so easy and then all of a sudden we felt like we could make any pass in the world…
“We’re going to face somebody tomorrow, for example, that’s going to have the same number of players that we do. If we’re going to be very effective defensively, we can’t hurt ourselves and I thought in that stretch in the middle of the first half we hurt ourselves.”
While the victory provided a confidence boost for the team in general, it also served as a possible foundation game for both P.J. Hairston and McDonald. Both played well in the second half on Friday, but delivered at a more consistent level against the Bulldogs.
McDonald led UNC with a career-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including a career-high six 3-pointers, while Hairston added a season-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting (4-of-7 on 3s).
McDonald, who missed the 2011-12 campaign with an ACL tear, had scored 12 points in UNC’s first three games of the season.
“It’s been a rough start,” McDonald said. “I took a year off and rehabbed and everything, so I’ve got to get used to it and get accustomed to conditioning and setting screens. I think this game was really a come-out game for me in just getting open and being able to take and knock these shots down.”
The Tar Heels will face a more substantial test on Tuesday against another set of Bulldogs from Butler. Monday’s performance must be accepted for what it was – a confidence builder against an overmatched opponent.
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