CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Ivory Latta, now a women’s basketball assistant coach after leading North Carolina to two Final Fours as a player, tweeted that the men’s 25-25 halftime score against Holy Cross “had to be a typo.”
Despite North Carolina holding the Crusaders to 6-of-22 shooting in the first half, the game was tied thanks in part to the Tar Heels' 27.3 shooting percentage in the first half.
One week after UNC coach Roy Williams described the Tar Heels’ 70 percent season-opening first-half shooting effort as “pretty basketball,” he described the first half as “pretty ugly.”
Make no mistake, the 12th-ranked Tar Heels could be prone to regular stretches of offensive futility as long as guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald remain sidelined while awaiting to hear from the NCAA on their eligibility.
“In the first half, we played a lot of ‘me’ ball instead of team ball,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “We didn’t share it as much, we didn’t set screens, we didn’t use screens. That’s what got us beat badly a couple of times last year.”
Against the Crusaders, North Carolina (2-0) had enough offensively to manage a 62-54 win on Friday before 15,833 at the Dean E. Smith Center. When the competition gets better, it won’t be enough.
Paige said the Heels’ struggles were a direct result of so many players adjusting to new roles. Paige appears to be the only player who is making a smooth transition. In just his second game starting at shooting guard, he went 8-for-17 from the field and scored a career-high 23.
“If we had P.J. and Leslie the roles would be a lot more defined than how they are,” Paige said. “ The roles aren’t clearly defined and at times that can be tough to exactly be in sync on offense but we did a better job in the second half just being patient.”
The Heels shook off some bad possessions to open the game and appeared to have an offensive rhythm, scoring 11 points over a five-minute span. Then forward James Michael McAdoo picked up his second foul and the offense joined him on the bench.
Over the next five minutes, the Heels made just two field goals. They spent a lot of time virtually looking for someone to score. Considering one span in the first half featured a lineup of Luke Davis, Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, who was supposed to take the shot?
“Just the fact that everyone is out of position and trying to learn new roles I would say we haven’t really identified our key offensive threats yet,” Britt said.
Even when McAdoo re-entered the game, the Heels were scoreless for seven minutes before Johnson dunked a Paige miss.
North Carolina couldn’t mask their offensive woes because the Crusaders -- who outrebounded UNC 25-20 in the first half -- limited it to just five offensive rebounds. The Heels didn’t get out in transition either, and were outscored 3-2 in fast break points.
Those used to seeing Williams’ teams run and produce points with ease might have to get used to seeing a much more methodical process.
“We’re not a team filled with shot creators, a guy you can just give the ball on the wing and say, ‘get us a basket,’” Paige said. “It’s important that we set a lot of screens, that we use a lot of screens, change sides of the floor, give the defense a chance to make a mistake because that’s how you get good shots.”
With the game tied at 35, Carolina used a 12-0 run powered by Paige and Johnson to take control of the game. Ironically, it took Johnson moving to center, which he hadn’t played much this season, to help ignite the offense. Johnson finished with 12 points before fouling out.
“Brice and James Michael might be our best scoring tandem of big guys,” Williams said.
Two games into the season isn’t enough of a sample to hit the panic button, but with the unknowns surrounding Hairston and McDonald, McAdoo said they have to get better with the personnel they have.
“Of course whoever we have out there, as long as we play together the better we’re going to get,” said McAdoo, who scored 11. “You’d like to see it happen instantly but at the end of the day we know it’s going to take time. Whether we get them [Hairston and McDonald] back or not we’re all just going to have to take our responsibility and our role and just do it to the best of our ability.”