Forty minutes. A basketball game lasts for forty minutes and until the final horn blows, every one of them is important. The Tar Heels didn’t seem to feel the same sense of urgency for the last ten minutes of the game as they did during the first thirty yesterday against East Carolina. The Tar Heels got the victory, but won the game by six points when in all honesty, it should have been by at least 20.
The Heels came out fast and really did a great job getting their scorers involved early with high percentage shots. James Michael McAdoo had another big game with 19 points as did Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock who each out up double figures respectively. The pace of the game was dictated by great perimeter defense by the Heels and they were able to get out in transition a lot more often than they had in previous games.
Roy Williams decided to go with freshman Brice Johnson at the other post position beside JMM to start the game even though Brice was under the weather. The decision was one that I feel sure most Tar Heel fans watching openly appreciated based on the production that the 6-8 forward has had over the past several games. While Johnson didn’t get into double figures in the scoring column like he had of late, he still had a couple of nice plays, but I’m not sure he did anything to solidify himself keeping that spot for the foreseeable future. I didn’t see him run the floor and work the post like he did the past several outings, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute it to him being under the weather.
A couple of guys who had monster games for the Tar Heels were PJ Hairston and JP Tokoto who both saw some minutes at the four spot when Roy went with a smaller lineup. Both Hairston and Tokoto were the only other Tar Heels to reach double figures with 18 and 10 points and both shot an extremely high percentage off of the bench. Tokoto seems to be getting more and more comfortable once he gets on the floor and knows when to take his shot. His confidence will only continue to grow with an increase in minutes and if he can continue to shoot 5-5 from the floor, I’m sure Roy will be inclined to give it to him.
Hairston has also seen a dramatic rise in his minutes and for good reason. He’s really stepped into his role as the shooter we expect him to be and he hit several big time shots towards the end of the game to dispel ECU runs that threatened the outcome of the game for the Tar Heels. I hope he continues to show confidence in that three point shot because he’s one of the few players on the Tar Heel roster that seems to have the famed killer instinct that so many of his predecessors had when they were in Chapel Hill. If there is one thing that Carolina needs after yesterday’s game, it’s killer instinct. Keep it up PJ.
I’ve determined that this team has about one good half in them and that half better be good enough to put the Heels over the top because we saw a situation yesterday where a team that had been completely outmatched and was clearly below the Tar Heels level, but was allowed back in the game. We can say all we want about the players going though exams and the lack of practice because of it, but good teams know what it takes to get the job done in that circumstance. The sloppiness that was displayed in the second half has no business being an issue for a team looking to contend for a conference title.
The Heels have one more big road test on Wednesday, against a struggling Texas team, before conference play. Obviously, I cannot stress how important it will be for the Tar Heels to start AND finish strong if they want to come out victorious.