Inconsistent Tar Heels get by Northern Kentucky, 75-60

Dec. 27, 2013 @ 11:47 PM

Isaiah Hicks got his best dunk of the season, Roy Williams didn’t get his halftime desire and North Carolina stayed entrenched in its season-long mode of Jekyll and Hyde.

The nationally 19th-ranked Tar Heels dispatched Northern Kentucky 75-60 in the Smith Center Friday night, ending a weeklong layoff. They didn’t look their best in doing it, again admittedly playing to the level of competition, and Williams shouldered a share of the blame.

“I wanted to stay out at halftime and run sprints,” Williams said, “but my assistants said not to. But I wanted to. That would have made SportsCenter.”

Instead, he benched his first five to start the second half and inserted a group that included Hicks. While they stifled the Norse defensively, the Oxford freshman soared through the lane for a two-handed slam that brought 18,000 to life, including Ol’ Roy, and forced a Northern Kentucky timeout with the Heels ahead 40-30.

“I need to give him some more time,” Williams said. “He’s like a little colt running around out there. But he’s going to be a really good player.”
Hicks, playing about five to 10 minutes most games, got 12 and a career-high three blocks. He scored just four points, dished an assist, but made his biggest impact with the group defensively.

“When coach put us out there, he wanted people who cared enough to get stops,” Hicks said.

The Tar Heels (9-3), who go for program win No. 2,100 when they host UNC Wilmington on New Year’s Eve, were playing the fifth of six straight home games. After beating Davidson last Saturday, Williams didn’t return them to campus until a Thursday night practice.

“The best coaching job I ever did was coaching a JV team 100 years ago,” Williams said. “I gave them 29 straight days off and brought them back with no practices and we were great. It didn’t work tonight.”

Seven Tar Heels did combine to block 15 shots, second most in school history.

James Michael McAdoo scored 14 points, Marcus Paige had 14 and a game- and career-high nine rebounds and Leslie McDonald scored 11 points. Paige and McDonald each had a trio of 3-pointers for a Carolina team that has had eight games with a combined total of three or less.

The Norse (4-8), who had a three-game winning streak snapped, were led by Tyler White’s 13 points. Jalen Billups added 12, including an outstanding baseline rebound slam.

“We can’t play to the opponents,” McDonald said. “We have to play the Carolina way.”

Or risk running sprints at intermission.

“He’s passionate about the game,” McDonald said of Williams. “If we don’t play that way, he will. I truly believe he will do that.”

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.