Davidson-North Carolina Preview
With the future status of two players no longer up in the air, North Carolina can now simply focus on trying to win basketball games.
The first opportunity comes Saturday when the 14th-ranked Tar Heels host in-state opponent Davidson.
North Carolina (7-3) played nine games without two of its guards due to NCAA rules violations: P.J. Hairston, last season's leading scorer, and senior Leslie McDonald.
The school announced Friday that Hairston's career there is over, saying it will not pursue his reinstatement after the junior committed several violations. Hairston didn't play while the school and NCAA worked to resolve eligibility questions, many stemming from the use of cars linked to a felon and party promoter in Durham earlier this year.
"P.J. made mistakes and I was very disappointed by his actions and now he is suffering the very difficult consequences," coach Roy Williams said in a statement. "He is not a bad kid. He just made some mistakes."
Hairston, who returned for his junior year rather than enter the NBA draft, scored 14.6 points per game last season.
The news was a bit better for McDonald, who was cleared to return earlier this week after he missed time due to receiving improper benefits in a related case. McDonald, who averaged 7.2 points and 17.7 minutes last season, had a solid return Wednesday with 15 points, but the Tar Heels lost 86-83 to Texas.
The Heels have ably overcome Hairston's absence, and it doesn't appear that will change. Sophomore Marcus Paige has picked up a bulk of the slack, scoring 19.6 points per game, while James Michael McAdoo (13.5) and Brice Johnson (12.3) are also contributing.
North Carolina's offense has been strong of late, averaging 81.3 points over the past four contests, including victories over ranked teams Michigan State and Kentucky.
McDonald's return should only help after he hit four 3-pointers against the Longhorns.
"(Leslie) gives us some size and some shooting to stretch the floor," sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto told the team's official website. "Our team is better now."
The guard said he was a bit rusty in going 3 for 8 at the free-throw line for the Heels, who despite their high scoring average have had plenty of trouble at the stripe this season.
"I had to get a couple of kinks out. I was a little disappointed in my free throws," said McDonald. "I know I'm better than that. I'm known for shooting a high percentage from the free-throw line. It's something that I just got to work on."
Paige, who had 23 points and a career-best seven rebounds, was 8 for 8 at the line, but UNC continued a disturbing overall trend by going 24 of 47 as a team. North Carolina is shooting an ACC-worst 59.6 percent on free throws.
"They are free opportunities to get points. The clock stops. You have to take advantage of them," Paige said. "I know we miss a lot of them, and it hurts when you're trying to make runs."
The Heels lost starting center Joel James when he was hurt on the first play of the game against Texas and did not return. The team said the sophomore sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and will miss 10-14 days.
Davidson (4-7) has dropped its last eight against ranked teams dating to Dec. 19, 2011, when the Wildcats beat then-No. 11 Kansas. They've lost to three ranked opponents already this season: Duke (No. 4 at the time) Virginia (No. 25) and New Mexico (No. 19).
The Wildcats have struggled on defense, allowing 80.4 points per game, and have had a hard time putting their own points on the board with top scorer De'Mon Brooks (16.8 ppg) sidelined due to a knee injury.
Tom Droney (13.1) and Brian Sullivan (12.5) have tried to pick up the slack. Sullivan scored 14 points in a 72-58 loss to Drexel on Sunday but had just two in a defeat against Niagara four days earlier.
The Tar Heels are 61-11 all-time against Davidson, including wins in the past four meetings.