Long-range shots propel Tar Heels past Cowboys
UNC made 13 of 28 3-point attempts.
It’s no secret that the North Carolina men’s basketball team has been traditionally known for its overpowering post presence complimented by average guard play.
But on a team laden with veterans on the wings, the Tar Heels have been forced to switch up their strategy this season.
In the 97-63 win against McNeese State, UNC took advantage of the Cowboy’s zone defense, shooting 47 percent overall and sinking 13 of 28 3-point shots.
“My eyes light up because I feel like shooters should be able to destroy all zones,” junior guard Reggie Bullock said. “We’ve got great shooters, me, PJ (Hairston), Leslie (McDonald), Marcus (Paige). And I just feel like when we see zone, we should be able to attack them and not just settle for 3-point shots, but still run things that we want and get in the post.
Bullock made five of his eight attempts while sophomore guard PJ Hairston converted three of eight from behind the arc and finished with a career-high 20 points. Junior guard Leslie McDonald had three long-range buckets and freshman point guard Marcus Paige sunk two 3-pointers along with a career-high nine assists.
Unlike previous games where the Tar Heels appeared to let off the pedal in the second half, UNC didn’t let up after the break, draining five of 11 from deep and limiting the Cowboys to shooting 36 percent from the floor.
“At halftime I told the team that we couldn’t come out in the second half and half-ass it, just coming out and letting teams score 60 points in the second half like we’ve been doing,” Hairston said.
The solid performance from behind the arc is the first step in erasing the painful memory of Wednesday’s loss to Texas.
Against the Longhorns, the Tar Heels looked like a completely different team from long range, making only three of 19 from deep.
“I think we can really shoot,” coach Roy Williams said. “And if you can really shoot, then you’re supposed to be able to do it every night. You’re not supposed to have those nights where you go three-for-22 or whatever the heck it is. It makes it more frustrating.”
Through 12 games, the Tar Heels have netted at least 10 3-pointers in six games. But those games include wins against Division II opponent Chaminade, Mississippi State and East Tennessee State. But in the three losses this season against Butler, Indiana, and Texas, the Tar Heels only made a total of 11 3-pointers.
“I feel like I’m 6-foot-7 and playing on the wing, so I should be able to shoot over smaller defenders,” Bullock said. “Texas, Butler and Indiana, those are better schools obviously, but I feel like they try to get up into you more to try to be more aggressive”
With the old adage “live by the three, die by the three” ringing true for the Tar Heels in the early season, the team must find balance through stronger post play.
“We’ve got to establish more inside play,” Williams said. “We’ve got to have more balance. I think to me, the key of the game today was that we made a lot of shots. Everybody has heard me say a thousand times that everything looks better when it goes in the basket, but we’ve got to have more balance inside.”
Though UNC’s development is far from over, one thing has been established — North Carolina will have to play together if it wants to be successful this season.
“A win always makes you feel better,” Hairston said. “I think the main thing is just we did better this game playing with a little bit more heart and play together as a team.”