North Carolina coach Roy Williams scheduled a 5 a.m. Thursday practice immediately following the Tar Heels' 86-83 loss to Texas on Wednesday night. He’s tired of preaching effort to his team, which has had a tendency to elevate its play against ranked teams and go through the motions against the rest.
Davidson normally would command respect, but this season it’s not a team that has proved capable of an upset. The Wildcats will stumble into Chapel Hill on Saturday with a 4-7 record. They lost leading scorer De’Mon Brooks to a knee injury after just five games.
In other words, Williams should have an indication pretty quickly about the Heels' effort levels because the opponent isn’t inspiring. One barometer will be rebounding, as they were outrebounded for the second consecutive game and the third time this season.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige said he hopes it doesn’t take more early-morning practices -- or losses -- to learn their lesson.
“If we didn’t give enough effort in the game, he’s got to drill it in somehow,” Paige said. “I mean, we’ve had a couple of games now where we’re saying the same thing. Effort is what got us. Effort is what got us. Either we have to change it or it is going to be forced to be changed.”
Williams is also looking to force a change from the free throw line. The Heels missed 23 free throws against Texas, which wasn’t even the worst this season. That number is 26, from their 83-80 loss to Belmont.
Paige is shooting 91 percent from the line, while the rest of the team is making just 52 percent. Even senior Leslie McDonald, a career 73 percent shooter, seemed hexed. Although he made 4 of 9 3-pointers, he was just 3-of-8 from the free throw line against the Longhorns.
McDonald played his first game this season after being cleared by the NCAA on Wednesday afternoon. An announcement was forthcoming on junior guard P.J. Hairston, but he is likely out for the season, based on the fact that the school did not submit his reinstatement papers to the NCAA.
The Heels could also be without center Joel James, who was injured just seconds into the game against Texas. The coaching staff will have to make more adjustments if James is out, but Paige said effort should never be one of them.
“You come here to play for North Carolina, you shouldn’t be coached on effort,” Paige said. “Effort is something you bring because you want to be here and you want to be successful. It’s frustrating.”
Davidson has lost to Duke by 34, Virginia by 13 and Clemson by 31. In other words, it's exactly the kind of opponent that the Tar Heels should overpower. Will they? That’s been question North Carolina hasn't answered consistently all season.