CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Leslie McDonald’s recovery from a serious knee injury is coming along just fine.
North Carolina’s defense is another matter.
McDonald scored a career-high 24 points in his first career start to help the 14th-ranked Tar Heels beat UAB 102-84 on Saturday night, though they struggled to prevent open looks and spent much of the night trading baskets with the Blazers.
James Michael McAdoo added 15 points and 12 rebounds as part of a balanced offensive showing for the Tar Heels (6-2).
They regrouped from an ugly loss at No. 1 Indiana despite playing without starting freshman point guard Marcus Paige due to a shoulder injury.
The Tar Heels shot 53 percent for the game, including 72 percent after halftime. They scored 67 points in the second half. They had 28 assists on 37 baskets and had six players score in double figures.
The problem was they didn’t do all that much to stop the Blazers (4-4), either.
UAB — led by former UNC assistant Jerod Haase — scored 55 points after the break. It so irked UNC coach Roy Williams that he slammed a clipboard on the court hard enough to send a marker spinning high above the huddle during a second-half timeout.
“Offensively we did some nice things,” Williams said. “We have guys who can shoot the ball. … Defensively we weren’t very good, but we’ve got to continue to work on it. Everything looks pretty when the ball goes into the basket except when the other team’s got it and keep getting up good shots for them.”
McDonald missed last season after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament during a summer league game. He redshirted last year though he was able to practice with the team as the season progressed.
The junior had a career high with 21 points in the win against Mississippi State in the Maui Invitational, then surpassed that by going 7 for 11 from the field and knocking down five 3-pointers against UAB.
“I feel pretty good,” McDonald said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing, keep working on my shot and keep being consistent.”
Reggie Bullock added 17 points and P.J. Hairston had 16 for UNC, while those two combined with McDonald to knock down 10 3-pointers as the Tar Heels played much of the second half with a small lineup.
The game marked a homecoming for Haase, who had spent the past nine seasons as an assistant to Williams in Chapel Hill.
It also marked a return for UAB assistant coach Bobby Frasor, who was a senior guard on the Tar Heels’ 2009 NCAA championship squad. UNC fans greeted both Haase and Frasor with loud cheers during pregame introductions.
Haase’s team responded by staying within reach of the Tar Heels most of the game until McDonald, Bullock and Hairston hit a flurry of 3s that helped UNC pull away in the final minutes.
“I told those guys afterwards I thought they liked me better than that,” Haase said. “They shot the heck out of the basketball.”
The Tar Heels were coming off an 83-59 loss to the Hoosiers that was the most lopsided nonconference loss for UNC since Williams took over in 2003.
The performance that did nothing to ease Williams’ worries about his team’s toughness — or lack thereof — following its loss to Butler in Maui.
Then the team found out Paige wouldn’t play after straining his left shoulder in practice Friday, leaving primary ball-handling duties to senior Dexter Strickland. Strickland responded with 11 points and a career-high nine assists.
Still, Williams frequently looked frustrated.
After the Tar Heels gave up a transition 3 midway through the second half, Williams ripped off his gray suit jacket as his team came to the bench for the clipboard-slamming timeout.
Later, when his Tar Heels tossed a ball away in transition, Williams picked up the ball and pretended he was ready to punt it into the stands.
“If I say pick up the other team’s point guard at the 10-second line, that’s what I mean,” Williams said. “It’s an easy deal. If I tell my 3-year-old grandson to pick that cup up, my guess is he’ll probably pick it up.”