McAdoo’s late-game heroics didn’t come as a surprise to anyone that’s watched the Tar Heels over the last three weeks. Considering his play on Saturday up to that point, his response was almost expected.
“Tonight he was the one making the great plays, so we just kept giving him the ball,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige told reporters following his team’s 75-71 victory. “He was being effective. When he’s playing as well as he did tonight, you’ve got to keep giving him the ball.”
That’s a significant change for the junior forward that has battled inconsistency and searched for an identity throughout his UNC career. And there’s no mistaking the strong correlation between McAdoo’s elevated play of late and UNC’s six-game tear, which ties the program’s longest winning streak dating back to last season.
Against Pitt, McAdoo led all scorers with 24 points on 11-of-18 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive boards. It was his fifth double-double of the season and second in his last four games.
McAdoo’s evolutionary arc this season started with complete vanishing acts (6 pts, 4 rebs in loss at UAB), morphed into mid-game disappearances (10 pts in first 8 min at Syracuse; 5 in final 32 min) and now has shifted to 40-minute showcases.
McAdoo scored 12 points in both halves on Saturday and continued to display an energetic persona on the court that has drawn attention in recent weeks. He was also a force on the boards, allowing UNC to thwart Pitt’s intent coming in to control the glass.
“He did a good job on the offensive rebounds, but they also got the ball inside to him a number of times,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said.
The Norfolk, Va. native is averaging 18.2 points on 50.6 percent shooting (41-of-81) and 8.8 rebounds during UNC’s six-game winning streak. That field goal percentage, in particular, is a significant jump for a player that entered this stretch shooting 44.9 percent for his career.
The key for McAdoo has been in maintaining his intensity throughout the entirety of the game. By not forcing things and staying engaged, he’s been able to capitalize with tip-ins and dunks that come naturally throughout the course of play.
“I realize I’m not going to be a scoring machine scoring every time I get the ball – that’s just not Carolina basketball – so it’s just playing in the system and my teammates hitting me when I’m open,” McAdoo said. “Finding the open spots and then just taking it upon myself to step up like today late in the game.”
The other aspect has been in the growth of his game – primarily in the form of his mid-range game, according to Paige.
“I think the fact that he’s consistently making that 15-foot jump shot has just really allowed his game to evolve,” Paige said. “So now he can attack the basket knowing he doesn’t have to force it. He can find his spot in the post if he’s got a smaller guy [on him], but he feels really comfortable right now shooting that mid-range shot. He’s such a matchup problem because he’s so quick with his first step.”
Roy Williams hesitated from heaping too much praise on McAdoo during his postgame press conference, but that likely speaks to the 11th-year UNC head coach’s belief that McAdoo can only get better from here.
“It’s a work in progress,” Williams said. “Every day he tries to get better… He is getting so much more under control but the best thing to me is not only 24 points, but 12 rebounds, and seven of them on the offensive end, with just one turnover.”
The final component in play is McAdoo’s ascension serving to balance Paige’s efficiency on the perimeter. Paige is shooting 47.8 percent over his last six games.
Preseason forecasts suggested that Paige and McAdoo would have to become one of the ACC’s top inside-out duos for UNC to be competitive when March rolled around. That development took longer than expected, but it’s hard to argue with the results.