CHAPEL HILL--- Former UNC assistant coach Jerod Haase and former UNC player Bobby Frasor brought the UAB Blazers (4-4) into the Dean Dome on Saturday night to play North Carolina (6-2).
UAB came in as a dangerous team that had upset on their mind, especially with the Tar Heels looking to bounce back from the Indiana loss and smarting various minor injuries with multiple players.
With news that took Roy Williams by shock right before the game, the Heels came out with some hot shooting and great play at times that allowed them to overcome this particular obstacle.
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UAB had its usual starting rotation out on the floor, which included four juniors and one senior, while UNC started out the game looking a little different than they usually do.
The starting lineup consisted of Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald, James Michael McAdoo, and Joel James.
McDonald and James made their first start Saturday night against the Blazers.
The reason for the mix-up for the Tar Heels in its lineup is that Marcus Paige injured his shoulder earlier and was questionable for the game up until tip-off, ultimately not playing.
At the start of the first half, Bullock and McDonald looked for their shots early, putting up some early three-pointers to stretch the defense.
With Paige out, Strickland, who played in his 100th game as a Tar Heel, came in a filled the roll as point guard. Luke Davis also contributed to the game, playing a key 10 minutes for the Heels.
The Tar Heels looked like they were still in Indiana as shots weren't falling and turning the ball over on offense multiple times, allowing the game to be close with UAB leading 15-14 midway through the first half.
With some stifling defense on one end, led by McDonald putting his body on the line to take charges, UNC went on a 13-0 run in the first half to take 12 point lead, which was then countered by UAB knocking down two of their five three-pointers in the first half.
UNC was out-rebounded by 10 full boards Tuesday night in Bloomington, and they were also out-rebounded against Butler in Hawaii.
It was quite different this time around as the Heels blocked out the Blazers in the first half, allowing them to only have five offensive rebounds and zero second chance points.
The Heels out-rebounded the Blazers 25-18 in the first half, with 11 of them being on the offensive end for UNC.
Brice Johnson led the way in the first half, as he contributed nine points (4 of 6 from the field) in only nine minutes of play off the bench.
UNC had four players with more than five points in the first half, along with three others getting into the box score in the points category.
The only eyesore in the first half box score for UNC was that the Tar Heels had the same amount of turnovers as they did assists, with 11 each.
The Blazers were down by as many as 14 points in the first half, but with some streaky shooting from behind the arc (5 of 12 in the first half), they were able to cut the lead to six at halftime (35-29).
Both teams came out hot in the second half, UNC mostly led by McDonald and McAdoo, as they were able to get to the rim with ease. The teams were getting up and down the court, as UAB wanted to play an up-tempo half coming out of the halftime locker room.
McDonald and McAdoo scored the first 10 points in the second half for the Tar Heels, but UAB stayed with them knocking down some outside shots and keeping the score within five early.
Even with the hot shooting in the second half, the defense didn't come out with the same intensity and Coach Williams had enough of it.
At the 13:16 mark, Williams called a timeout and did he have some words for them.
He walked out on the court, ripping his jacket off along the way and was ready to lay into his team. He even threw his clipboard on the ground, with the marker soaring in the air.
One could tell he was not happy with his team's play, as UNC wasn't able to pick up on the defensive side, allowing UAB to push the ball up the court, get into the lane, and become more aggressive in their offense.
As we have seen, Roy is not afraid to shake up his line up, especially when having four guards in the game.
Midway through the second half, he had Strickland, Hairston, Bullock, and McDonald on the floor---a lineup Williams may use more often as time goes on.
"They'll get better at it" Williams said when asked about the small lineup.
"I hope we won't have to go small out of necessity like we did against Butler, but today we went small because I thought it would help us. We'll play that line-up. It's hard to guard, but we've got to do better job on defense protecting the goal."
UAB wasn't able to keep up with quick guards on the floor, as UNC capitalized by driving and getting fouled or kicking it out to an open shooter on the floor.
The Tar Heels knocked down some open shots to increase its lead to 16 points (77-61), and they never looked back.
It seemed like UNC had a balanced attack on Saturday, as Hairston and Strickland drove the ball to the bucket on multiple occasions, players were knocking down three-pointers, and the Tar Heels got solid play from Johnson and McAdoo down in the post.
A key contribution in Saturday's game was the play of McDonald, as he had a career high in points (24) and assists (5).
In addition, Strickland did a solid job taking control of the team in Paige's absence, producing a career high in assists also with nine.
'Strick seemed pleased with his performance against UAB and commented about his play and what he was doing well.
"Finding guys in their comfort zone," Strickland said when talking about having so many shooters on the floor. "I work out with those guys all the time and I see where they like to shoot. I think it was very important for me to get the ball to that area, so they can get their shot off."
As time was winding down with the game well in hand the crowd got a late treat, as McDonald lobbed a pass to J.P. Tokoto for an alley-oop.
CONFIDENCE BOOST FOR UNC IN HAASE RETURN
UAB and its first-year coach Haase came in and gave the Heels all they could handle, but in the end, the hot shooting in the second half allowed UNC to come away with the win.
The Tar Heels shot 72 percent in the second half, the highest percentage in a half since March 23, 2008 against Arkansas, where they shot 73.5 percent in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
UNC was 7 for 11 behind the arc in the second half (10 of 23 overall) and was even able to get to the free throw line throughout the game, shooting 18 of 21 from the line for the game (85.7 percent).
Haase commented at the end of the game about his return to Carolina.
"The weird thing is, I had been the head coach of the (North Carolina) JV team for five years, so being out on the Smith Center and coaching and calling plays was not foreign to me, but being on the other bench certainly was. The whole evening and afternoon, it was just a little bit odd."
UNC will be back in action next Saturday, December 8, when they host East Tennessee St. in the Dean Dome. This week the Tar Heels will have practice, but they'll go a full week without game action as they complete exams for the fall semester.
ETSU is the second of five Saturday home games in the month of December for the Tar Heels.