Saturday marked the second career start for Leslie McDonald and the first for Jackson Simmons, and while neither player had a first half to remember statistically, Williams’s plan to shake things up ultimately worked.
“We’d lost three in a row and you have to try and do something,” Williams said following the win. “I don’t know that Leslie had done enough to deserve it, but I wanted to do something. Jackson plays harder that everybody else and that’s the reason he got the chance.”
Simmons’s time abruptly ended with an elbow to the forehead less than two minutes into the game, though he did return got spot duty later in the game following four stitches.
McDonald’s first half scoring output was minimal (three points) but his presence on the floor opened the court for the Carolina offense to be effective against the Eagles.
“Coach put the guys out there he wanted to start the game and we just had to go out there and try to start both halves with a lot of energy and effort,” James Michael McAdoo said about the change. “I’m not sure (the change made a difference) but it seems like that … getting off to a quick start and getting the momentum. Whenever you are able to do that, you can build a lot of confidence, especially throughout the game. “
While McAdoo was the early beneficiary of the change, with 10 quick points, the entire North Carolina offense flowed efficiently, especially when compared to the first three ACC losses.
“I was able to start off quick today and it helps get my teammates involved,” McAdoo said. “It takes the pressure off everyone as a whole.”
For this team, Marcus Paige has dealt with his share of pressure. Paige’s struggles have been well documented. Hitting the wall. Worn out physically. Mentally drained. The litany goes on and on but lacks perhaps the true reason for the drop. Paige has spent the season playing out of position and that fact has gradually caught up with the team’s leader. Any lineup shift that moved Paige back to his natural point guard spot was a welcome change for the sophomore.
“I came here to play point guard,” Paige said. “The shooting guard thing, I’m a guy that’s going to do whatever I have to do to help the team. But (point guard) is my natural position, it’s where I’m most comfortable and where I’m probably most effective. It’s good to get extended minutes there.”
Paige’s 14 first-half points exceeded his output in first halves of the previous four outings combined and though he put up just one shot in the second half, his 21-point night led Carolina – his sixth 20-point game and sixth time leading the Heels in that category.
All told, Carolina’s 36-point first half and 46-point second half were the Heels’ best scoring outputs of the young ACC season. For a team that has been inconsistent defensively, getting out of the scoring funk of the past two weeks was a necessity.
Williams’s move and his players’ acceptance will only help down the road, starting in Charlottesville on Monday night.
“I may stick with it in Charlottesville, but I may not,” Williams said, “I just don’t want to sit back and not do anything.”