Strickland doled out a career-high nine assists and came out spreading the floor right from the start. He assisted the first Tar Heel bucket of the game as he hit a slashing Reggie Bullock for a transition lay-up. On the very next possession, he drained a long 2-point attempt, the first of 11 points.
But Williams was more impressed with Strickland as the game went along.
“It wasn’t very smooth, particularly early; it got a lot smoother in the second half as we got into the game,” Williams said about Strickland’s performance. “And I thought he did a nice job defensively. No one did a very good job, particularly picking up better ball pressure.
“But nine assists for Dexter, and again when we move the ball, and all of a sudden we have a little spacing, Dexter has the ability to take the ball to the basket. I think that was something that helped us tonight, too.”
Without Paige in the lineup and Strickland playing the point, Williams gave redshirt junior Leslie McDonald his first career start. McDonald made Strickland’s job much easier as he knocked down a career-high seven field goals on the night.
The UNC guards saw success from the outside, especially in the second half, as Strickland penetrated into the collapsing defense before finding a shooter outside.
UNC (6-2) made 10 of 23 attempts from deep — five from McDonald.
Not only did McDonald set a new career-high in points with 24, he added five assists, which is also a career mark.
“We just got it inside first and then were able to kick it outside,” McDonald said. “That’s how our game works. We were getting a lot of shots … (Strickland) was just attacking the lane and they were sucking in and then kick out. Once we saw that was working we tried to do it every time.”
Considering that Strickland had little time to mentally prepare for the change in role, Williams praised his effort.
“It’s a hard thing to all of a sudden find out that you’re going to play, instead of six or eight minutes at the point, that you’re going to play 25 or whatever it was.”
With Strickland moving the ball around on the way to 67 second-half points, the Tar Heels proved they didn’t need their starting freshman point guard to handle UAB.
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