At 7 p.m. Monday night, Leslie McDonald danced one last time.
It’s something he hasn’t been able to do lately — at least not on the Smith Center hardwood. After all, it’s difficult to keep his pregame “Jump Around” dancing routine while squatted around the center circle waiting for the opening tip.
But for one more time, McDonald let the rhythm course through him for a few seconds before getting down to business.
“I didn’t make that call,” McDonald said of his decision to dance. “Marcus (Paige) actually yelled it out. He got the whole team to gang up on me and tell me to dance.
“It was weird at first because I hadn’t done it in a long time. The routine is already in my head. It just comes natural.”
No. 14 UNC carried the celebratory mood through the opening 20 minutes of the 63-61 win against Notre Dame (15-16, 6-12 ACC) when it opened up a 14-point halftime lead, but five minutes into the second half, the mood shifted.
UNC (23-7, 13-4) fumbled away a double-digit lead and allowed Notre Dame to claim the lead for brief spurts in the second half.
“I don’t know if it was senior day,” James Michael McAdoo said. “I feel like we did get a little complacent, especially when we went up at halftime with a pretty good and comfortable lead there.”
It wasn’t exactly the senior day sendoff McDonald expected. The Memphis native scored only two field goals — both in the first half — before exiting early with four fouls with six minutes 12 seconds remaining in the game.
“Senior night is always emotional for me,” coach Roy Williams said. “It’s emotional for Leslie because he didn’t have the kind of game he’s had recently. He was dribbling the ball and stepping out of bounds and charging the guy.”
McDonald scored the most points of any UNC senior Monday night, but it was senior walk-on Wade Moody who lit up the scoreboard with the first points of the night on a 3-pointer 52 seconds in.
The last time Moody played he brought the crowd to its feet with two 3-pointers against Wake Forest to push the Tar Heels over 100 points for the first time this season.
“Coach feels comfortable putting (the walk-ons) in the first couple minutes and letting them have their time to shine,” Paige said. “Wade can really shoot the ball, so I was proud of him so he was able to get one to go again tonight.”
As McDonald took the microphone to thank his family, friends and coaching staff two hours after his signature pregame dance, the mood was much more subdued.
For the third consecutive game, the Tar Heels escaped with an ugly win. But Williams and the team shelved their disappointment for a few moments to celebrate the seniors’ accomplishments in front of the fans who braved the wintry weather to watch the foursome’s last outing in the Smith Center.
After McDonald, Moody, James Manor and Denzel Robinson made their senior speeches to the crowd, Williams took the microphone. He attributed some of his gray hairs and coach Steve Robinson’s hair loss to McDonald’s off-the-court troubles.
“There’s been some junk, some you caused,” Williams said to the crowd, laughing, gesturing at McDonald.
For McDonald, who saw his freshman class depart for the NBA and graduate during the last four years, the finality of his home career sunk in immediately.
“It hit me when I said my last speech, just seeing the crowd and my family there,” McDonald said. “Just seeing coach’s reactions.”
“Yeah, it’s hit me already.”
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