Chapel Hill, NC - An important page was ripped out of No. 14 North Carolina's (6-2) book when starting freshman point guard Marcus Paige jammed his left shoulder in practice.
But Dexter Strickland stepped in admirably to lead the Tar Heels to a 102-84 win over UAB in Jerod Haase and Bobby Frasor's homecoming.
"It was a weird game," UNC head coach Roy Williams said.
"Going to shoot-around today and finding out I wasn't going to have Marcus was a shock to say the least. And when you go to the shoot-around and find out you don't have Marcus and Dexter's not at the shoot-around, because he had a class-assignment today, a performance for a children's literature class, and that is a good class, so understand that."
"But to do that, to Dexter to have about a six-hour class thing today and come over find out that Marcus is hurt and he's going to be the starting point guard is a little bit of a shock to him."
Paige's absence left the Tar Heels without his 7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals.
But Strickland was solid in his absence, one assist away from a double-double in his first start at point guard, adding 11 points, four rebounds and nine dimes to four turnovers.
"I think did pretty well," Strickland said. "Everybody stepped up. Leslie [McDonald] did a great job. P.J. [Hairston] did an amazing job coming off the bench. Everybody came to play tonight."
"We got to show if we lose Marcus, if we lose P.J. (Hairston) we are still able to win a game. It didn't happen as we wanted to against Indiana when we lost P.J., but I think it's very important for us to bounce back like we did tonight and just keep moving forward from here."
Williams added the offense was choppy in the first half, but smoother in the second half. Carolina shot a mere 36.8-percent from the field before the break, but scorched the nets at 71.9-percent following the intermission.
The Blazers ended the first half on an 8-0 run that cut a 14-point UNC advantage down to a mere 35-29 halftime lead. UAB continued its spurt in the second half, narrowing it down to a 35-33 deficit at the 19:07 mark before the Heels began to create some separation.
UNC was spurred by a 42-28 run and a 25-4 spurt to keep the game out of UAB's reach.
"I knew during that stretch they went zone and we went small, and I think the first two or three possessions they were in zone we made three-point shots," Williams said.
Leslie McDonald, entering the starting lineup for the first time with Paige out, scored 18 of his a career-high 24 points (7-11 FG, 5-8 from three-point and 5-6 FT) in the second half, and dished out a career-high five assists to one turnover in his first collegiate start.
"I knew in the second half I had to turn it on a little bit defensively and offensively, being aggressive and just getting my teammates open," McDonald said. "The thing about it is when you work to get your teammates open your teammates try to get, so they got me open."
"In my head honestly I couldn't miss. Every shot that I shot I thought was going in."
Reggie Bullock scored 17 points, while P.J. Hairston added 16 points, James Michael McAdoo chipped 15 points and Brice Johnson gave North Carolina its sixth double-digit scorer with 11 points.
"I told these guys afterwards I thought they liked me better than that," Haase said. "They shot the heck out of the basketball and it's going to be fun cheering for North Carolina when they do those kind of games and hopefully from here on out it'll be against somebody else."