Starting guard Dexter Strickland left UNC’s 82-68 victory at Virginia Tech on Thursday night early in the second half with an injured right knee. He did not return and is scheduled for further evaluation Friday.
“I try to think positive,” Strickland said as he sat in the visiting locker room at Cassell Coliseum. “I’m not trying to be worried. Hopefully everything is all right. It’s real sore right now, so I’m going to go put some ice on it, do some rehab and look at the X-rays tomorrow.”
The injury occurred with 16:44 remaining in the second half. Strickland, who played just six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, dribbled down the court in transition and tried to make a move with the ball from the right side of the basket. He pulled up lame, going down in the corner across the court from UNC’s bench.
Strickland lost the ball out of bounds for a turnover, but that meant little after he immediately grabbed behind his right knee and grimaced in pain. When UNC coach Roy Williams came out to check on Strickland, presumably to ask what happened, Strickland yelled, “My knee!”
Strickland limped to the bench with assistance from teammates and training staff, and he spent the rest of the game seated with an ice bag on his knee.
“I hate it for Dexter,” Williams said afterward. “I have no idea about what the extent of his injury is.”
The Tar Heels had scored eight consecutive points to tie the game at 44 at the time of Strickland’s injury, and they followed the stoppage in play with 11 more points in a row to take control of the contest.
Strickland, who went scoreless in 10 minutes against the Hokies, entered the night averaging 7.9 points per game on a team-best 57.6-percent shooting from the floor. But if he is sidelined for a lengthy period of time, the Tar Heels would miss him most on defense.
“It would hurt us a lot,” UNC forward John Henson said. “He’s our best perimeter defender, and it really hurts me to see him go down because he works so hard. Hopefully he can get back as soon as possible.”
Strickland also is UNC’s primary backup to starting point guard Kendall Marshall. Freshman Stilman White has played sparingly -- he entered the game for one possession in the first half Thursday -- so his role would increase if Strickland’s injury turns out to be serious. Marshall already averages a team-high 30.9 minutes per game, but he plays more than that in games that are competitive throughout.
The Tar Heels don’t want to play without Strickland, but they might have no choice. Their next game is Thursday against N.C. State.
“Stillman has to get ready to spell me for a couple of minutes here and there,” Marshall said. “I just have to do a good job of taking care of my body and getting ready to log a couple of more minutes.”
Strickland has experienced knee trouble before. He had surgery on his left knee before coming to UNC, and he was bothered last season by a meniscus problem in his right knee.
It was unclear whether Strickland’s latest injury is related to the discomfort he felt last season. He said after the game Thursday that he felt relieved to see minimal swelling in his knee up to that point.
Now all Strickland and the Tar Heels can do is let the team doctors do their thing. And wait for the news.
“I told him, trying to make him feel better, that those times when there’s a lot of pain, I’ve seen some of those not be too bad,” Williams said. “When a guy says, ‘Gosh, that felt funny,’ that’s when it’s a major thing. But, again, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I was just trying to encourage him.”