LAHAINA, Hawaii — Throughout the first half of North Carolina’s opening game in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, the Tar Heels were finally proving exactly what coach Roy Williams has been proclaiming since the beginning of the season — his team can shoot.
In fact, just 30 seconds into the game — which would result in an eventual 95-49 UNC win against the Mississippi State Bulldogs — guard Reggie Bullock knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Tar Heels on the board.
The bucket would be a precursor to an afternoon of on-point long-range shooting, a far cry from the 1-for-12 showing the Tar Heels had against Gardner-Webb in their season opener.
As the final second ticked off the first-half clock, UNC was already shooting 50 percent from behind the arc and leading by 29. But guard P.J. Hairston decided the Tar Heels weren’t finished just yet. So from 65 feet out, he hurled the ball towards North Carolina’s basket at the far end of the court.
Off the square and in.
“It’s just a shot I’ve practiced maybe sometimes playing around before practice,” Hairston said, laughing. “I knew at some point it was going to go in.”
The Tar Heels, who ended the first half with a trio of 3-pointers, shot 47 percent from both the floor and long-range. UNC’s 15 3-pointers against Mississippi State were the fourth most in school history.
For Williams, the performance was anything but out of the blue. He’s always been confident of this team’s capabilities and insisted that his team shoots well in practice. He’s just been waiting for the Tar Heels to prove his point.
“I’ve said for a long time that we’re a really good shooting team,” Williams said. “When we’re consistent, getting the basketball inside, getting good balance of inside scoring and guys shooting good 3-point shots, I think that’s when we’re our best team.”
Suspensions and injuries have left Mississippi State with an eight-man roster, and the Bulldogs were simply outmatched. At halftime, when UNC led 49-17, Mississippi State’s leading scorer had just six points.
With two more games ahead of UNC in the Maui Invitational — the next, a matchup today at 8 p.m. against Butler — Williams said he was thankful for being able to spread out the playing time Monday. Williams gave 10 players at least 10 minutes on the court, and forward James Michael McAdoo had the most with just 23.
The Tar Heels got 51 points off the bench, including a career-high 21 from guard Leslie McDonald, UNC’s leading scorer, and 18 from Hairston. Five North Carolina players scored in double digits.
Early in the first half, Bullock drained a deep bucket — the third for North Carolina in a 1:17 span — and shook his head as he stared intently at the basket in front of him, running backwards to get back on defense.
After all, an inspired performance like the one his team had Monday wasn’t about realizing newfound skills. The Tar Heels were simply reaching a potential they knew they already had.
“Our coach wants me and Leslie to take great shots, so try to get great shots we want for our team,” Bullock said. “It’s just a confidence booster for the outside shooters just to be able to run the floor, get steals, just play that type of game, because that’s the Carolina way of playing basketball.”
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