CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- P.J. Hairston came back. Reggie Bullock got his shot back. And James Michael McAdoo’s sore back? That didn’t seem to be an issue as North Carolina blew out Wake Forest 87-62 on Tuesday night.
The question now: Are the Tar Heels ready to get back to meeting even bigger challenges, as they prepare to face two top-10 foes on the road (Miami, then Duke) over the next nine days?
“I couldn’t tell you,” McAdoo said when asked how close his team, which has now won six of its past seven games, is to reaching its potential. “When we show up to play, we’re a great team. We’ve had our ups and downs; I feel like our highs are getting higher, and our lows aren’t coming as often as [they used to].”
“I feel like if we keep playing, we’ll be all right.”
There were few lows Tuesday night, as junior wing Bullock (23 points) and McAdoo (20) each scored 20 or more points in the same game for the first time this season; the Tar Heels outscored the Deacons 26-12 on turnovers; and the Tar Heels (16-6, 6-3 ACC) set a season-high for points in an ACC game.
“It was a good night for us,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
One without injuries or cold spurts or an extra period or drama.
Tuesday's shellacking concluded what was supposed to be one of the Tar Heels’ “easier” week-long stretches, schedule-wise; after all, their matchups were against three squads hovering near the bottom of the ACC standings.
But it wasn’t all that easy.
Last Tuesday, the Tar Heels won at Boston College -- despite losing Hairston, a key reserve, in the first half to a concussion.
Playing without Hairston on Saturday, it took overtime to beat Virginia Tech at home.
And leading up to the game against the Deacons, there was some doubt that Hairston would play because of flu-like symptoms, and some worry about the health of other teammates (McAdoo’s aforementioned back; starting center Desmond Hubert also had the flu).
“If you would have asked me around 11 o’clock [Monday] if I would have been able to play, I probably wouldn’t have answered the question because that’s how bad I was feeling,” said Hairston, who finished with 11 points. “Honestly, that’s probably the worst I’ve ever felt when I’ve gotten sick before because I usually don’t get sick like that.”
He didn’t look like he was feeling the after-effects of either the flu or his concussion, though, particularly during UNC’s 15-1 first-half-ending run, during which Wake failed to score a field goal for the final 5:54. Hairston scored four points -- including one of his two 3-pointers -- during that run, while Bullock added seven points during the breakaway.
“I believe the score was 32-26 at one time,” said Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik, referring to the score just before UNC began that run, “and we had the ball on a break. And I believe we turned it over. We can’t just give teams that many more possessions and that many easy points on turnovers.”
In the end, Wake (10-12, 3-7) got a double-double from forward Devin Thomas (11 points, 13 rebounds) but dropped to 0-6 on the road in ACC play. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, shot 51.6 percent for the game -- led by Bullock, who made 7 of his 10 shots after a frustrating 3-for-13 outing last weekend.
The junior said he knows his team has a challenging stretch coming up. But he also believes the Tar Heels are close to reaching their potential.
To being back, so to speak.
“We still are right around the corner from it,” he said. “In the game today there were some great stretches that we had, but there were still some stretches we could have done a lot better. Once we just put the whole game together fully, I feel like we’ll be a top-25 team.”