McAdoo’s final stat line showed 20 points on 4-of-6 shooting. He attempted plenty more field goals, of course, in setting his career high in made free throws (12) and tying his career and season highs in free throw attempts (19).
McAdoo added five rebounds, a team-high four assists and a pair of steals.
“I just tried to go out there and play better,” McAdoo told reporters during his postgame interview. “Try to do something with the time I had out there. I haven’t really been playing that good, so I think the biggest thing was just attacking, getting to the free throw line and then my teammates were just looking for me.”
Over his previous five outings, McAdoo averaged nine points on 32.7 percent shooting (16-of-49). The junior forward attempted 5.4 free throws per game during that stretch, which was difficult to reconcile given his athleticism and slashing style of play.
Against the Wildcats, McAdoo thrived in space early, drawing eight fouls in the first half. Kentucky’s three-man post rotation – Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson – piled up eight first-half fouls primarily at the hands of McAdoo.
The final foul of the half – a McAdoo slash on the baseline with 1.9 seconds remaining – earned Cauley-Stein his third foul and Kentucky head coach John Calipari his first technical.
“Every time he touched it I was like, ‘Alright, I’ve got to me because he’s coming. I don’t want to get in his way. I don’t want my man to go over there and help,’” UNC forward Brice Johnson said. “He was being very aggressive. I love that out of him. That’s what I want him to do. That’s what he’s best at.”
As it turns out, McAdoo was simply following his coach’s directions.
“I told the whole team I wanted us to be aggressive, aggressive and patient, and that’s hard,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “There’s sort of an opposites there, but I wanted us to be aggressive getting the ball to the basket, on the break, those kinds of things, but then get good shots when you get there. And I think James Michael did that. You look down there and he’s 4-for-6 – I’ll take that any day, too, especially if you get 19 free throws.”
With leading scorer Marcus Paige being held without a point for the opening 19:58, McAdoo paced the Tar Heels early against a long Kentucky defense that ranked 10th nationally in field goal percentage defense entering the game.
“He really took over and started getting to the basket, getting fouled a lot,” Paige said. “When we see that, it helps a lot. It’s good for him to get to the free throw line – even if he struggles at the free throw line, it’s good for him to get there and see the ball go in a couple of times. When we play through him, I think we’re a more balanced team.”
McAdoo’s production wasn’t limited to offense. Julius Randle, Kentucky’s freshman forward phenom, was held to 11 points and five rebounds, well below his season averages.
“Not only on the defensive end, but on the offensive end, we were able to attack him and get him in foul trouble,” McAdoo said. “That helps a lot when he’s out of the game.”
After a four-game stretch without scoring in double figures, McAdoo is averaging 16.5 points on 57.1 percent shooting (8-of-14) over his last two outings. He’s attempted 27 free throws combined in both contests.