Long Beach State’s defensive plan was to double-team James Michael McAdoo out of its 2-3 zone early. That approach left openings on the perimeter for North Carolina, and the Tar Heels weren’t about to let those opportunities go by the wayside.
Four of UNC’s first five possessions ended with a 3-pointer, resulting in a 9-4 lead after Reggie Bullock and Marcus Paige combined to knock down three of their first four treys.
The Tar Heels, however, went cold for the next 20 minutes, missing 12 straight 3-pointers.
With the game tied at 37-37 with 17:25 to play, the 49ers’ defensive intensity started fading and North Carolina’s looks from outside became more open. Bullock shot the lid off the rim with a 3-pointer to give UNC a 42-41 lead with 15:52 to play.
The Tar Heels connected on seven of their final 10 3-pointers en route to blowing open a competitive game.
“In the second half, we started finally making some shots,” Williams said following UNC’s 78-63 win. “I think we’re a good shooting team. We made three of our first four threes and then we fell in love with the 3-point shot and started shooting it every time down… But in the second half we were 7-for-13 from the 3-point line and I think that’s more indicative, especially when we have the right guys taking them.”
There was plenty of discussion during the offseason about how much this North Carolina team would have to lean on its outside shooting. The first two games seemed to dispel that thought as the Tar Heels converted just 7-of-27 from long range. Through the first five halves of the season, UNC had missed 30 of its 40 3-point attempts.
Sophomore P.J. Hairston, who suffered through a severe shooting slump for much of his rookie season, had made just one of his seven treys heading into Friday’s game. After missing all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half, the Greensboro, N.C. product drilled 3-of-4 after halftime.
“I knew eventually my shot was going to come and the shots were going to start falling,” Hairston said. “It was just up to me to make them. This was the game I chose apparently, and I chose it at the right time.”
The combination of James Michael McAdoo’s assertiveness and North Carolina’s 3-point shooting over the final 20 minutes was too much for Long Beach State to withstand.
“If our team is making shots and James Michael is doing what he does, I think we could be unstoppable, basically, and teams wouldn’t know how to guard us,” Hairston said. “That would cause havoc for any team, even great teams.”
Hairston’s probably right. The Tar Heels just have to prove that they can consistently shoot like they did in the second half on Friday and avoid the 20-minute black holes.
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