One day after confirmation that junior shooting guard P.J. Hairston will not take the court alongside newly-reinstated senior Leslie McDonald, J.P. Tokoto said that the team is using Hairston and his absence as its fuel.
The sophomore starter does not approach his own position or personal role on the team any differently - especially in light of McDonald's ability to fill a shooting gap since his return December 18 - but his performance in UNC's 97-85 overtime win against Davidson materialized the goals that Tokoto has had in his mind since the season's start.
"My role's been the same," Tokoto said. "Attack the boards, be an offensive threat when needed, be a defensive stop for coach, whatever we need - just be that person. I had it in my mind that I was going to be that with P.J., or without him."
With 22 points, 11 rebounds five steals, two assists and five of six made free throws, Tokoto gave a career-best performance in every area and showed that he is capable of doing just what the team needs.
Although he said his in-practice free throw shooting was as effective on Thursday as it always is - around 80 percent - Tokoto noted one thing that he believes helped him achieve his highest in-game free throw shooting percentage with at least five attempts.
"Tonight, I know I talked to coach Hubert Davis about a check point," he said. "My check point is just finishing on my toes and holding my follow through and going through my routine in my head instead of thinking, 'This has to go in,' which as helped me incredibly."
In respect to his entire game, his teammate felt the numbers spoke for themselves.
"He had 22 (points) and 11 (rebounds), what more can you say?," freshman Kennedy Meeks said. "He attacked the offensive glass, the defensive glass and opened it up for the big men and the guards. I think he always knew (his role), I think he's becoming more of a leader as he starts to score more points and get more steals and rebounds."
The level of play, which Meeks said is standard for Tokoto during team practices, was nothing new for him by his own standards - the shooting and rebounding and steals that he had are on par with what he did in high school - but it was a caliber of performance the sophomore had never had before at UNC.
"It's nothing new to me, but bringing it to the team - yeah, it's new," Tokoto said. "To get the offensive game started, for me it gets the defensive game going as well. (It has me) wanting to get that steal, get out on the break (and) get the ball out to teammates. I feel like any part of your game where you're hot, whether it's defensively or offensively, gets everything else going."
Tokoto got North Carolina on the board more than 2:45 into the game after five missed Tar Heel shots. The initial goal came on a third-attempt put-in after Tokoto shot, missed and rebounded his own ball twice.
Those shots were part of the 14 Tokoto took during the game, a number that shows just how different his mentality is this season compared to that of his freshman year. Last year he said he knew that coach Roy Williams did not want him to shoot, nor did he need him to shoot, but this year is different.
"Now that we have Leslie back, he doesn't need me to shoot per say," Tokoto said. "But if the shot's there, (Williams)'s 100 percent behind me taking it."
Defensively, Tokoto was also in his element. The tight nature of the game favored the half-court scramble and full-court press defense that he prefers and which he feeds off of.
"Our full-court press this year, I feel like it's stronger than last year's because we've got a lot of people - for (example) me and Nate (Britt) - that like to get a hand on the ball, especially with odd-ball defense," Tokoto said. "When coach put us in the press, our mentality was, 'Let's get a hand on this ball, let's get a steal,' and we got it three straight times."
Tokoto was called for a foul attempting to grab a third consecutive steal on behalf of he and Britt's one-pass trap defensive scheme.
"The other two times we got a steal, put it in the basket and forced overtime. It's something we know we can do, it's not so much a surprise to us because we know defensively what we can do," he said. "Once the pass comes in, (we) go trap. If you can get another one, go ahead, if you can't, go back to man."
"(With) how desperate we were at the end of the (second) half, we needed the ball, so we'd trap on whatever."
Throughout the entire game against Davidson, the Wildcats were able to give a defensive stop of their own in shutting down UNC's season-leading scorer Marcus Paige.
The box-and-one defense Paige faced had defenders switching on and off of the guard, following him when he'd move through screens - a "pretty effective," attack strategy by his own assessment.
Paige did not score until the 8:17 mark in the second half and sophomore Brice Johnson - who started at center in place of injured Joel James - fouled out with just over three and a half minutes left in regulation with only two points, leaving Tokoto in a new position of leadership.
"He leads kind of by example," Paige said. "He just plays his game and listens. He brought a lot of energy tonight and he got a couple of things to go early for him and I think that was big for him - big for his confidence - so that then he could knock down that mid-range jump shot or crash the boards… he had a lot of key rebounds for us."
"That was his A-game tonight and (…) he really kept us in the game, that was big for us."