UNC’s stars shine bright against Wake Forest

CHAPEL HILL, NC — North Carolina’s stars filled their roles Tuesday night.

Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo and junior wing Reggie Bullock – Carolina’s top two scorers on the season – each reached the 20-point mark for the first time in the same game this season. P.J. Hairston returned after missing a game because of a frightening concussion last week, and UNC had its full complement of players for the first time in a while.

At times, the Tar Heels weren’t even all that fluid with the ball. They kicked it around a lot early in the game and McAdoo was off missing his first four field-goal attempts and three of his first four free throws.

But Carolina came around and exploded to a 87-62 demolition.

When leading scorer McAdoo (15 points per game) got going he was excellent, converting jumpers near the baseline from 10 feet out, twisters and short shots inside the lane, and even a layup from the left side of the basket that required a great deal of body balance because of a hard foul. He finished with 20 points and five rebounds, ending a stretch of three consecutive games where he registered double-doubles.

“I was just trying to get my confidence,” said McAdoo. “I haven’t been shooting as well as I want to from the free throw line. So just trying to keep attacking, keep playing and keep the energy level high.”

Bullock (13.6 points per game) knocked down 4 of 5 3-point attempts and totaled 23 points on the night. He also handed out three assists and appeared real comfortable on the floor. This was a particularly positive sign for the Tar Heels (16-6, 6-3 ACC) because ever since a 21-point first half in a win over Maryland more than two weeks ago – he finished with 24 points that game – Bullock had been in a bit of a scoring slump, averaging fewer than 12 points per outing since.

But his effort on this night coupled with McAdoo’s allowed for a star-studded eruption by the Tar Heels in their clobbering the visitors from Winston-Salem.

“Those guys were hot tonight,” senior guard Dexter Strickland said. “And I think me and (freshman guard) Marcus (Paige) did a great job finding them in transition and finding them in the offense, getting them in a zone and playing well.”

But it wasn’t just North Carolina’s leading scorers on the season that performed well. Everyone showed what they do well. Ten Tar Heels scored in the first half and 12 reached the scoring column overall.  

Hairston and junior wing Leslie McDonald each connected on a pair of 3-pointers, sophomore forward Jackson Simmons did his sneaky-good things, freshmen bigs Brice Johnson and Joel James displayed some interior moves, and overall, the Heels looked like the Heels have looked for many years.

They registered 26 points off of turnovers after forcing 21 miscues, won the rebounding battle by five, and ended up shooting 51.6 percent from the field, and that was after missing 10 of their final 11 field goal attempts.

“Everybody played well tonight,” Strickland said. “P.J. played very good being that he was out for a week with his injury ad him being sick. For him to come back and hit those 3s and give us momentum was good for us.”

Granted, Wake once again had a tough time on the road. The Demon Deacons (10-12, 3-7) have lost four straight games overall and six of their last seven. They have dropped their last three road games by an average of 23 points, and have been routed in four of five road contests. Wake’s last four opponents have converted 55.9 percent of their shot attempts from the field.

Needless to say, Wake Forest wasn’t much of a challenge, and the Tar Heels recognized that, though respectfully.

It is unlikely UNC has a false sense of security heading into Saturday’s game at No. 8 Miami, which improved to 9-0 in the ACC on Tuesday night. Even on an evening when everyone played so well, Bullock knows there’s much work ahead.

“It’s good to be 6-3 in the conference right now,” he said, “but we still have a lot more work that can be done to make our team more successful.”

He and McAdoo pouring in points together more consistently would be a part of that process.