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December 27, 2013

Heels Handle Northern Kentucky

CHAPEL HILL--- As it turned out, North Carolina had a little bit of trouble putting away non-conference foe Northern Kentucky Friday night at the Smith Center.

But then again that's nothing new, as the Tar Heels have struggled all season in Chapel Hill defeating what most would consider to be inferior opponents, often playing down to the level of its competition.

After a full four days off to celebrate Christmas with their families, the Tar Heel players returned to Chapel Hill Thursday night and showed definitive signs of rust against the Norse, turning the ball over 14 times---compared to just eight for NKU---and shockingly allowed the visitors to out-rebound them on the offensive glass despite not having a single player on its roster listed over 6-7.

Carolina (9-3) found a way to win relatively easily in terms of margin, 75-60, over NKU (4-8), though there were only a few isolated moments in the game when one would have thought, based on the crowd's reaction in the Dean Dome, that the Tar Heels were comfortably ahead.

"We were not very sharp, to say the least. I probably gave them too much time at Christmas. We played Saturday, let them go and didn't bring them back until 7:00 pm (Thursday) night," said head coach Roy Williams immediately after the game.

"We were not sharp, to say the least. And that was a huge part of the game. But at the same time, I don't think we had any intensity and the concentration level that we needed to have. When you added both of those together it makes you miss easy shots or throw the ball who knows? A couple of times we were passing it to each other instead of shooting it, and then all of a sudden it goes out of bounds."

It didn't start out all bad for the Tar Heels, as they jumped out to an early 22-8 lead after back-to-back threes by Leslie McDonald nine minutes in and looked like they were going to run the visiting Norse out of the gymnasium.

And with the Tar Heels shooting a respectable 12 of 27 in the first half (44.4 percent) and an even better five-of-eight (62.5 percent) from three-point land over the opening 20 minutes, many would have thought that Carolina would be well in front at halftime.

But that wasn't the case, as Northern Kentucky, despite shooting just 39.4 percent in the first half (13 of 33), and despite getting out-rebounded by the Tar Heels, managed to pull within 35-30 at the intermission, as Carolina went the final three minutes and 55 seconds of the half without a field goal.

"I was not pleased defensively or on the backboards or attacking the basket," said Williams about his team's effort. "We had a tremendous size advantage and one of our goals was to attack the basket. We didn't get a single low post 'up' or take the ball to the basket the entire first half. So I was pretty frustrated at that."

Carolina came out with a purpose to start the second half as Coach Williams went with an entirely different lineup.

"I put in those five guys to start the second half and I thought those guys gave us a tremendous lift defensively. They did some really good things for us," Williams replied.

Though the action was still relatively sluggish and both teams struggled to score, UNC embarked on a 9-3 run over the first six and a half minutes of the second half to push its lead out to double digits.

But Northern Kentucky wasn't done, as a wide-open three-pointer with just under 13 minutes left brought them within seven (44-37).

To the credit of the visiting Norse, they managed to largely control the tempo of the game, while along the way creating a restless, unengaged Smith Center crowd environment that played virtually no role whatsoever in starting momentum for the home team most of the evening.

"You've got to congratulate Northern Kentucky. They came in here and didn't care if it was North Carolina or whoever it was. They did some nice things and they were more aggressive than we were, especially in the first half," Williams said.

Midway through the second half the Tar Heels went into an aggressive full-court press, which seemed to help slow down NKU a little and forced a couple turnovers.

NKU made just four of 18 shots over the first fifteen-plus minutes of the second half and finished the final 20 minutes just nine of 33 (27.3 percent) from the field, making their final shooting total a sluggish 33.3 percent (22 of 66), including a miserable 5-for-23 (21.7 percent) from three-point range.

The Tar Heels shot 50 percent from the floor in the second half. That is the eighth time in 12 games this season that UNC shot 50 percent or better in the second half.

And it was the seventh time UNC shot 50 percent or better in the second half after shooting less than 50 percent from the floor in the opening half.

James Michael McAdoo led the way for the Tar Heels with 14 points, coming on four-of-eight shooting from the floor and six-of-eight shooting from the free throw line. He added six rebounds, one assist, one block, and one steal.

Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald were UNC's other double-digit scorers, with 11 apiece. Paige added nine rebounds, two assists, and a steal, while McDonald made three three-pointers.

McDonald has now made more three-pointers in the three games since he returned to the UNC lineup than the rest of Carolina's outside shooters combined with exception of Paige.

The Tar Heels return to action New Years Eve (Tuesday, December 31) with a home game back in the Smith Center against in-state foe UNC-Wilmington.


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