There are no missed 3-pointers. No off-the-mark free throws. There’s no 0-3 conference start. No NCAA investigation. For Leslie McDonald, history doesn’t exist on the basketball court.
There’s only the present — and the all-important promise of the next play.
That’s the mindset. A trick of sports psychology, where every shot is seen as a new beginning. And in Saturday’s 84-70 win against N.C. State, McDonald’s afternoon was filled with happy endings.
For the first time this season, McDonald led North Carolina (14-7, 4-4 ACC) in scoring, dropping 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting. He had entered the game shooting just a smidge more than 30 percent in ACC play, but McDonald doesn’t wallow in his misses any more than he savors his successes.
The fifth-year senior has seen and been through too much for that type of thinking.
“It is (easier said than done), but just to have that mentality, even when things aren’t going for you, it’s just the next play,” McDonald said.
The next play.
That forward-looking philosophy has served McDonald well in a season marred by the past.
McDonald didn’t play until the 10th game of the season due to NCAA rule violations. He’ll have to repay $1,783 in impermissible benefits to a charity of his choice. Coach Roy Williams announced before the season that he was stripping McDonald and former Tar Heel P.J. Hairston of leadership duties, naming sophomore Marcus Paige a team captain along with junior James Michael McAdoo.
“It was tough in the beginning,” McDonald said. “But now for me, it is what it is, and it’s the next step. We got great leadership in Mac and Marcus, and you see that.
“Just knowing that the team is in their hands. I was OK with that.”
Still, McDonald hasn’t shied away from his role as a team veteran, someone who’s experienced the rapturous highs of the NCAA tournament and the precipitous low of missing the Big Dance in his freshman season.
When UNC began ACC play this year with three straight losses, McDonald said he reminded the team’s youth about the length of the season — that there’s still time to climb the ladder. Still plays to make.
“I feel like I feed off of him very much so,” said McAdoo, who scored 16 points and tallied 13 rebounds Saturday. “Just his presence out there and talking and communicating a lot with him … He’s a great team player, and he makes winning plays, which we’re very thankful for, especially since we did miss him in the first half of the season.”
On Saturday, in just his fifth start of the season, McDonald showed why UNC had missed him.
He wasn’t perfect. No, McDonald began Saturday’s contest with a foul of T.J. Warren, sending the ACC’s leading scorer to the line.
But his next play? A two-point jumper.
In the first half, McDonald shot 1-for-5 from the 3-point line.
But the next half? He was one for two, changing his focus to driving the lane and scoring 12 points in the process.
UNC hadn’t lost a single game to the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill since Williams took over as head coach. But McDonald didn’t take that to the court with him.
“It’s already understood, the rivalry — or whatever you call it — between N.C. State. We just took it as another game,” said McDonald. “It was good to beat them.”
The next play?
“Now, we have to go to their place and beat them.”
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