North Carolina had no problem disposing of Oakland in their season-opening game against Oakland, beating the Golden Grizzlies 84-61 without the services of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.
Against Holy Cross, however, that was hardly the case as North Carolina had to fight their way to a 62-54 victory.
The Crusaders, who finished 12-18 a season ago and was picked to finish seventh in the ten team Patriot League for 2013-14, challenged the Tar Heels and exploited their weaknesses without P.J. Hariston and Leslie McDonald.
Initially, it looked like North Carolina would run away with this one. They sprinted out to an 11-1 lead out of the gate and looked like they would coast to another victory, but they went through the motions for the latter part of the first half. Two primary areas of concern: shot selection and rebounding.
In their first two games of the year, Holy Cross gave up 82 points to Harvard and 118 points to Sacred Heart in two overtimes. The Crusaders have little depth on the inside with senior and preseason First Team All-Patriot League selection Dave Dudzinski the only proven forward, yet the Tar Heels inability to score inside with James Michael McAdoo and Joel James is of concern. Settling for outside jump shots against a poor Holy Cross defensive team is unacceptable.
Secondly, from a rebounding perspective, to get outrebounded in the first half and for the game (41-39) does not bode well. McAdoo has to be better — it’s that simple.
Of course, North Carolina not having their most potent scorer in P.J. Hairston hurts, and is a primary reason for the offensive struggles. Fortunately, Marcus Paige was there to pick up the slack and lead the Tar Heels to victory as he poured in 23 points, to go along with five rebounds and three assists.
The bright spot in the frontcourt tonight was sophomore Brice Johnson, who has scored in double figures in both of North Carolina’s games. Tonight, Johnson came off the bench to score 12 points.
It is clear that for the long-term for North Carolina to have success, Hairston and McDonald need to be on the floor. When will they return, though? That’s a question that has yet to be answered.