UNC averaged 15.3 assists against 12.4 turnovers during its first 11 ACC games. Since its loss at Duke on Feb. 13 – the first game playing with its small lineup – North Carolina is averaging 18.8 assists against 8.8 turnovers, good for a 10.0 differential.
While Kendall Marshall ball hogged the assist totals in 2010-11 and 2011-12, this recent trend has been built upon a group effort.
Over the last four games, Dexter Strickland has 21 assists and three turnovers, while Marcus Paige is close behind with 20 assists and six turnovers - that’s a 4.6:1 assist-turnover ratio for UNC’s starting backcourt.
Their teammates have gotten involved as well. Reggie Bullock has a 13:1 A/T ratio, P.J. Hairston is at 4:1 and Leslie McDonald is 3.5:1 on seven assists and two turnovers. The only two regulars with negative assist-error marks are James Michael McAdoo (7 assists, 14 turnovers) and Desmond Hubert (no assists, 2 turnovers).
On Thursday, the Tar Heels scored 26 field goals on 19 assists, while committing just nine turnovers to Clemson’s 15. North Carolina won 68-59 and outscored the Tigers 13-2 in points off turnovers.
UNC holds a 74-28 edge in points off turnovers over its last four games.
When asked the reason for the recent improvement during his postgame press conference, Roy Williams replied: “It’s maturity, I think, more than anything.”
His players tend to agree.
“The only freshman we have in the lineup is Marcus and he’s a pretty smart point guard,” Bullock said. “He’s definitely smart with the ball. With us being leaders – me, P.J. and Dexter – we just try to take care of the ball because we know if we take care of the ball, we’re going to be in games and be able to get out and run and share the ball well.”
Strickland highlighted experience as well as the new lineup.
“I guess it’s just us making the right decision,” Strickland said. “Keeping our composure and staying calm; not getting rowdy and making [stupid] plays, turning the ball over and things like that. We’re just playing well together as a team.”
There’s still plenty of opportunity for improvement. After a 12-assist, two-turnover first half, UNC delivered an equal number of assists and turnovers – seven – in the second half.
“Marcus had zero turnovers in the first half and made two of the worst turnovers in the second half he’s ever made in his life,” Williams said.
The upward trend is telling, however. North Carolina entered Littlejohn Coliseum ranked third nationally in assists (17.7) and first in ACC play in assist-turnover ratio (1.4) and managed to improve both statistics.