Last season, the Tar Heels started two players who stood at least 6-foot-11 in Tyler Zeller and John Henson. The 2012-13 squad is different. True freshman Joel James is the only player on the roster who stands at least 6-foot-10.
With such a discrepancy in size and a surplus of wing players, it's understandable that the 3-point shot would become a prevalent feature of the offense.
Prior to the game against East Carolina, the Tar Heels attempted, on average, slightly below 20 3-pointers per game and made 37.7 percent of those shots. North Carolina attempted an average of 15 treys last season, connecting on just 33.5 percent.
“We've got great shooters on this team this year,” junior Reggie Bullock told reporters after the game. “Me, P.J. [Hairston], Leslie [McDonald], we’ve been working on our shot and Marcus [Paige], too. I just feel like we’re going to take shots if we’re wide open.”
Against East Carolina, UNC's shooters shot 42.8 percent from behind the arc on 14 attempts, including just four in the first half. Such a low number - this season - might indicate the offense is struggling. The Tar Heels made only one 3-pointer in an 83-59 loss to Indiana, as well as one in a 76-59 win over Gardner-Webb to open the season that was closer than some anticipated.
Despite the standard production from outside, North Carolina was still able to put up 93 points against East Carolina due in large part to its scoring effort in the paint. The Tar Heels outscored the Pirates in the lane 40-26 and made a season-high 19 free throws on 24 attempts.
The 4:1 free throw attempts to 3-pointers made ratio is far and away the highest of any game this season for UNC, but is still lower than the 4.75:1 ratio last year's team possessed. Even though the jerseys, coach and some of the players are the same, the difference between this year and last year can clearly be seen in that statistic alone.
Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo scored a game-high 19 points and made a career-high nine free throws. McAdoo was the only true post player able to score effectively down low for the Tar Heels. James, Brice Johnson and Desmond Hubert combined for just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Instead, the interior scoring came from players typically associated with their play on the outside. Bullock, Hairston and McDonald combined to shoot 28 times with just 10 of those attempts coming from long range.
“I think we get whatever we want,” Bullock told reporters after the game. “I don’t think any team is just going to back down and if they’re open in the post, we’re going to give it to them in the post. If we’re open on the wing we’re definitely going to shoot it.”
East Carolina played man-to-man defense against North Carolina and even went to a press in the final minutes. This style caters to more scoring in the post via entry passes and the dribble drive than a zone defense does.
Strickland was particularly effective getting into the lane and finding open players for layups or short-range shots. The senior dished out a career-high 10 assists and notched the first double-double of his career with 12 points.
“I think it’s always good for Marcus and myself to get into the lane and enable Reggie, P.J. and Leslie to knock down those shots,” Strickland said. “That’s what we always try to do; Coach loves when we do that. So if we continue to do that and those guys keep knocking down shots, I think we’re going to be alright.”
While the six-point win over the Pirates certainly had its tense moments down the stretch and is sure to make some of the Tar Heel faithful squirm, the team demonstrated it doesn't have to solely rely on the 3-ball to score points. They are capable of adjusting to a defense and finding the open shot, whether that be from outside or in the lane.
“Coach [Williams] really doesn’t like saying, ‘Take what we get,’ because we don’t want any team, like if they played zone, to make us shoot all threes,” Bullock said. “We're still do the things that Carolina basketball has been doing for years, but I just feel like we take whatever is open.”
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