Current Date: Sat, 08 Mar 2014 13:17:17 -0500
Leslie McDonald didn’t start the game for North Carolina. He didn’t even play 10 minutes in the first half.
But that didn’t stop the redshirt junior guard from being one of the most productive players on the court in UNC’s 78-55 win against East Tennessee State.
“You’ve got 12 shots in 16 minutes,” coach Roy Williams said. “He’s pretty confident, I would think.”
“Leslie is a good threat for us, whether he’s coming off the bench or starting, it doesn’t make any difference.”
At the break, McDonald had tallied eight points, four rebounds and three assists in only nine minutes on the hardwood. For the third time this season and the fifth of his career, McDonald led all UNC scoring, this time with 14 points.
“I’m more confident than I’ve ever been,” McDonald said. “I feel like my shots are falling down like I want to, just being able to shoot with confidence, I feel like I’m doing a good job at it.”
Shortly after entering the game for the first time, McDonald committed a foul, giving the ball back to East Tennessee State. But he soon made up for his transgression by draining a 3-point bucket less than two minutes later.
Then, less than a minute later, McDonald received a pass from Dexter Strickland on a fast break and hit another triple.
McDonald didn’t sink any more long-range buckets in the first half, but add two more 3-pointers in the second half.
McDonald’s 14-point effort comes on the heels of a career night against University of Alabama-Birmingham a week ago. In his first career start, McDonald dished out a career-high five assists and scored 24 points, eclipsing his previous career high of 21 points and five assists that he set against Mississippi State in the Maui Invitational.
Since returning from an ACL tear suffered in summer league game in July 2011, McDonald has slowly regained a level of confidence he lacked in early season games.
He points to the Maui Invitational and the UAB games as significant confidence builders.
“Maui really helped me out, just by seeing the ball go through the goal,” McDonald said. “And the last game we played here really boosted up my confidence.”
McDonald scored 41 points in the three games in Maui, including a 10-of-19 effort from behind the arc. And, in the last two games, McDonald has made nine threes — including four against ETSU. Through the first nine games of the season, McDonald is shooting 50 percent from deep.
McDonald’s increased confidence not only helps his shooting, but also alleviates stress from his teammates and elevates his team’s performance.
“It’s good – If nobody is hitting it, if we’re struggling,” Strickland said. “They went zone pretty much the whole night and for him to knock down shots is big for us. It relieves pressure from me, off of Reggie (Bullock), off of the big guys, off of (James Michael McAdoo), Joel (James), Brice (Johnson). I think it’s a great addition to our team.”
After struggling through the first three games of the season, scoring only single digits, McDonald appears to have shaken off the rust and is on track to have a successful season with his newly regained confidence.
“Obviously I’ve been out for a year, just not being able to play in a collegiate game for a long time, it just was really trying to get back to that way,” McDonald said. “It’s just hard.
“You can ask Strickland or any other person that’s missed out a whole year —it’s hard to get back into that routine. But I found it early and now I’m rolling with it. ”