James Michael McAdoo felt a little different in his pregame warm-ups Sunday. Coming off an 11-point, four-rebound performance at Clemson three days prior, he knew the stage was set for a make-up game at home in the Smith Center.
P.J. Hairston was one of two UNC wings with four 3-pointers.
The contest started off well enough, as he hit an elbow jumpshot on North Carolina’s first possession to start a game-opening 7-0 run.
But, it was when FSU took its first lead 10 minutes later when he felt his good vibe really kick in. He made a strong post move two possessions later to give UNC the lead back. Immediately after that, he picked Terry Whisnant’s pocket at halfcourt and slammed home a thunderous and-one dunk on the other end.
Those five points in quick succession started another Tar Heel run, this one a 20-3 stretch that UNC (21-8, 11-5 ACC) rode all the way to a dominating 79-58 victory.
Within that run, McAdoo rattled off 11 points in a 3:25 period. His buckets came in a variety that piqued UNC’s intensity all the way through halftime. McAdoo was going right at taller Seminoles and finishing at the hoop. He was racing down the court for alley-oop slams and converting offensive rebounds into crowd-riling dunks without touching the floor.
While scoring 17 first-half points, McAdoo was the preseason All-American he was expected to be, the standout leader of a young and talented bunch.
“I just felt really confident coming into this game. I felt a good vibe even during warm-ups,” McAdoo said. “I really just tried to get out and run … just getting off to a good start, that’s what it’s all about.”
Surrounding McAdoo’s work in the paint during the first-half run, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston also connected on 3-pointers in rhythm to attack the Seminoles from all angles. McAdoo, often of an even-keel demeanor, was screaming and fist-pumping all the way until his buzzer-beating layup just before halftime.
“It gets us going when Mac shows emotion — you know something is going well,” point guard Marcus Paige said. “Going off like that in the first half is big for us because he is one of our few inside presences. Once he got some open shots and some open looks, it really rubbed off on our team.”
Joel James ... being the animated Joel James.
Rub off it did.
Bullock and Hairston picked up the load in the back half of the game, finishing with 20 and 16 points, respectively. They each hit four 3-pointers, leading a Tar Heel offensive explosion that included 60 percent long-range shooting and 55.4 percent shooting from the field.
It was the best UNC has shot the ball since a blowout victory against Chaminade in November. The 57 points from McAdoo, Bullock and Hairston are the most UNC’s three leading scorers have combined for in a game this season.
McAdoo’s good vibe extended to the rest of UNC’s backcourt, as Dexter Strickland and Paige tallied 13 assists to just three turnovers. McAdoo’s baskets revved up the Tar Heels for defensive stops, which led to run-out buckets and open shots on the secondary break.
“He makes everyone else go,” Hairston said of McAdoo. “Once James Michael starts scoring, Reggie and me get open shots, and that opens up for everybody. When he dunks, he gets everyone going, and that’s how our runs start.”
By firing on all cylinders, UNC extended its winning streak to five games — the longest of the season. Besides just the switch to a small lineup, coach Roy Williams pointed to the Tar Heels’ increased aggressiveness, toughness and energy as the reason for the late-season uptick.
McAdoo embodied that surge in aggression throughout the first half of UNC’s victory.
There was no settling for mid-range jumpshots or fading away from contact as McAdoo has done for durations of this season. Florida State had the lead for 37 seconds. At that point, McAdoo made it his ball game.
The energy McAdoo created became infectious for the Tar Heels. Jackson Simmons was diving on the floor for loose balls, P.J. Hairston was drawing charges and backup big men Brice Johnson and Desmond Hubert each brought the house down with second-half slams.
“When you see your teammate take a charge, or you see Jackson dive on the floor, that gives you a little more enthusiasm to play, too. We didn’t have those kinds of plays earlier in the year that we’re having now, and, I think, that’s really helping us,” Williams said. “Everything we’re doing is the way we’ve got to play every game.”
In typical McAdoo fashion, he deferred all credit to God, his teammates, coaches and the whole cast. Don’t let it fool you, though. Sunday’s rout of FSU was a direct result of McAdoo and his vibe.