CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- During a recent practice, North Carolina coach Roy Williams told junior Reggie Bullock that if he had an open look at the basket, he’d better take the shot.
During Sunday’s 80-56 victory over Florida Atlantic, the small forward complied.
Two days after being “almost unselfish to a fault,” according to his coach, in his team’s season-opener, Bullock scored 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting at the Smith Center. Forward James Michael McAdoo still led the No. 11 Tar Heels (2-0) with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but getting more out of Bullock offensively was and will be key for a re-constructing squad that still doesn’t know where all of its points will consistently come from.
“My team expects me to do it,’’ Bullock said of scoring more. “The other players look up to me. I’ve just got to go out and do it every night. They look for me to take more shots, they look for me to shoot the ball, they look for me to me a leader.
“I’m always talking on the floor, just doing the little things to get the 'W.' I believe they want me to take these extra shots, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Bullock admits that he wasn’t looking for his shot enough Friday, when he was 2-for-4 with five points against Gardner-Webb: “I had a couple open looks, but if I catch it and it [doesn’t] feel right, I just swing it to the next player.”
Sunday, though, he attacked early and often.
After picking up an offensive charge about 30 seconds into the game, Bullock scored on a 3-pointer less than a minute later. Then he connected in transition off freshman point guard Marcus Paige’s first assist of the season, and added a dunk and another 3-pointer. He had 10 points in the first 5 minutes, 28 seconds of the game, giving the Tar Heels a 13-8 lead.
The 6-7 wing went quieter offensively for the remainder first half, doing the things he became known for last season: pulling down rebounds (he finished with three, as well as four assists, a block and a steal for the game), focusing on defense. But he added another field goal, free throw and 3-pointer in the second half, when the Tar Heels shot 54.5 percent as a team.
“He had a phenomenal game,’’ McAdoo said. “I think that just came with him having that confidence and really just going out there and relying on us. I think we set him great screens, got up, we ran. I felt the low-post guys really helped open it up for him; [FAU] couldn’t really key on us too much because he was making good shots.”
Indeed, Bullock -- the only returning scorer from last season’s Elite Eight team -- said he had been worried about exactly how he was going to get open to take more shots. After all, he was in a complementary position last season, scoring when he got the opportunity but serving as more of a role player as now-NBA-rookies Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson led UNC's scoring effort.
But Bullock said he and McAdoo, in particular, have been communicating more on the floor to help the wing get more opportunities.
“Like he’s been wanting me to come off screens and shoot the ball,’’ Bullock said. “As long as me and him keep working together, I believe, we’ll get better.”
That’s the hope.
As Williams continues to tinker with combinations – and freshmen Paige (six assists, 1-for-8 shooting), Joel James (11 points, eight rebounds), Brice Johnson (12 points) and J.P. Tokoto (two points, three rebounds) continue to get their bearings – the coach is counting on Bullock and McAdoo to carry the load.
“I don’t think there’s any question that they’ve played more minutes and accomplished more things than anyone else, so it’s not completely new to them,’’ Williams said.
The key, Bullock said, is continuing to look for openings – and then continuing to take advantage of them.
“People are still trying to figure out what we need from them this season, and that will come,’’ Bullock said. “... But I know I need to be more aggressive.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.