Trying to find ‘the Carolina way’

Dec. 22, 2012 @ 10:02 PM

Steps toward cohesion taken by North Carolina in a 97-63 win over McNeese State Saturday drew approval from players and head coach Roy Williams.

The competition wasn’t the best, but the No. 23 Tar Heels (9-3) have found the largest mountain to scale hasn’t been on an opposing sideline. It’s been on their end of the court.

Kinston junior Reggie Bullock had spoken of cohesion for the team before and after an 85-67 loss at Texas. Head coach Roy Williams deflected the chatter before the game but changed his tune afterward.

“We talked about it a little bit on Friday,” Williams said. “I challenged them and said now you should have learned something else, but let’s don’t be here at April saying well we learned something again. At some point, you learn some things and you’ve got to be better.”

The phrase “buy in” to the team has buzzed since the loss to the Longhorns, a struggling team with a loss to Division II Chaminade and a spot in some of the season’s worst television highlights.

“Coach always says lose yourself into the game, like lose yourself into the team,” said Marcus Paige, a freshman guard from Iowa. “It’s a 100 percent commitment to not worry about anything individual, statistics and stuff like that, and know that North Carolina is playing and North Carolina has to get the win. And anything you can do to help that, that’s what he means by buying in. Just lose yourself and play selflessly.”

Paige’s afternoon of nine assists and no turnovers drew a praise from Williams.

“It was a good day. That’s the best he’s ever been,” Williams said.

Greensboro sophomore P.J. Hairston led five players in double figures with 20 points and Bullock hit five 3-pointers scoring 17 points.

“Winning always makes you feel better,” Hairston said. “The main thing that we did better was we played with a little bit more heart and played together as a team.”

The Tar Heels assisted 29 of 35 field goals and only had three turnovers while making eight 3-pointers in the first half building a 54-23 lead.

“Me and Reggie talked about it, how we need to play as a unit,” Hairston said. “If we play together and we play well, there’s nobody really that can beat us. I’m not saying we’re perfect, but it’ll make it hard for other teams to guard us with all the ball movement and with all the unselfishness.”

Bullock agreed and added, “The biggest challenge with this team is basically pulling everybody in, getting everybody all in. Once we get everybody 100 percent all in, I feel like we’re going to be one of the best teams in the nation.”

Unity and cohesion problems often mean disarray in the locker room. Bullock said that’s not the case with the Tar Heels, and Williams’ comments before the Texas game on his team not being apart would back up the sentiment.

“I feel like when we’re with each other, we’re all brothers and love each other a bunch,” Bullock said.

“I think this break is coming at a good time,” Williams said. “We get a couple of days to rest. When we come back, it’s here now. It’ll be UNLV and the ACC, and that’s all we have, big-time basketball.”

Asked about the consequences if the team doesn’t change to an unselfish style, Paige shook his head.

“We don’t have a choice,” he said. “We have to do it.”

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.