“It was just like the team clicked,” UNC sophomore guard P.J. Hairston said. “Once we came out of that media timeout, it was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to turn it up right here because if this happens, this is going to be seen everywhere.’”
Up until that point on the game, Shaw – a Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association school – had connected on 42.5 percent of its field goals (17-of-40), including 41.7 percent of its 3-point attempts (5-of-12).
North Carolina ramped up its defensive effort with four veterans – James Michael McAdoo, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and Hairston – and the largest player on the court in freshman Joel James.
The Tar Heels held the Bears to just one field goal over the next 13 minutes and 12 seconds in delivering a 36-5 run. Shaw missed 18 of 20 field goals before UNC head coach Roy Williams inserted his walk-ons with 1:23 to play.
"We had a little run in the second half when we had Dexter, Leslie and P.J. in the game on the defensive end,” Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “They built up the pressure a little bit and I think that was good for us.”
The second half defensive surge ignited North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels scored 10 points off turnovers and doubled their first half total in fast break points (12). In return, UNC improved its assist-turnover ratio from 8:6 in the first half to 11:4 after the break.
“We got out and denied passes,” Hairston said. “James might have had three deflections and breakaways. It’s just all on the defense because when you pressure the ball, the offense gets rattled. When you pressure the ball, you get easy steals.”
McAdoo indicated that increased defensive pressure has been an emphasis during the first two weeks of practice.
“Just coming in this year and being sound in our fundamentals and just really relying on that to help us turn it over into offense,” McAdoo said. “That's something we definitely need to continue to work on and really going into the games just focus on – being a better defensive team than the past Carolina teams have been – knowing that we got to make up for some of the offensive firepower that we might not have."
Despite the sluggish start, the Tar Heels pointed to a confidence boost due to their ability to elevate their defensive play amidst adversity.
“We could see that we can be great on the defensive end of the floor because we’re long and athletic and we can get out and run,” Bullock said. “We’ve just got to keep the defensive intensity up.”
Athleticism will not be a problem for this North Carolina team, which has quickness (Strickland, Marcus Paige) and size (Hairston, McDonald) at the guard spots, as well as length on the wing (Bullock, J.P. Tokoto) and in the post (McAdoo, Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson). And don’t forget the beef, courtesy of James.
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