CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Talk about a rotation.
No. 12 North Carolina dizzied itself with at least 13 different lineup combinations in its 82-63 exhibition win over UNC Pembroke tonight before 10,458 at the Dean E. Smith Center. And that was before the bench emptied with reserves to close out the game.
Thing is, the lineup carousel could continue heading into the season opener next Friday against Oakland. Carolina is still waiting for the NCAA to weigh in on disciplinary action for P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald and held them out of tonight’s game. J.P. Tokoto, who played in two unsanctioned summer league games, also sat out, but will return for the opener.
UNC coach Roy Williams said he was “not close to a set lineup” due to the uncertainty, which could make strange lineup combinations the norm until further notice.
“Well, that’s a big part of it because we don’t know who we’ll have back yet, there’s no update on that,” Williams said.
In some years, the lineup of Nate Britt, Luke Davis, Isaiah Hicks, Jackson Simmons and Kennedy Meeks would have certainly been viewed as the Blue team. Against the Braves that was a combination that took the floor not even halfway through the first half. Williams said Hicks played small forward even though he had never practiced at the position.
Forward James Michael McAdoo has practiced playing small forward, but didn't anticipate having to spend the entire game at the position. Williams said he posted impressive numbers with 19 points, 10 rebounds and three assists -- until he looked at turnovers.
McAdoo, who had the dubious distinction of leading the team in turnovers last season, had five against the smaller, quicker lineup Pembroke had on the floor.
“A lot of my turnovers were just dumb trying to dribble between two people a couple of times I tried to pass the ball in close when I should have just shot the ball," McAdoo said. "(I’m) just trying to cut down on little stuff like that that’s easily fixed.”
With Williams forced to use combinations that might not be seen again, the Tar Heels lacked chemistry for some stretches of the game. After holding as much as a 24-point lead in the first half, they allowed the Braves to cut it to 59-53 with 8:53 left in the game.
That was partly due to 23 turnovers -- and Pembroke didn’t use its full court press like it did against N.C. State on Tuesday.
“I just think we had some sloppy possessions overall as a team -- it was like the ball was greased up before the game or something,” said sophomore Marcus Paige, who had five turnovers.
Paige, like McAdoo, essentially didn’t play his normal position the entire game. He played shooting guard, with either with Britt or Davis handling the ball.
Paige said he had to keep reminding himself not to be a stand-still shooter when playing off the ball.
“I have a tendency to stand on the wing and not be active, not screen, and just sit and wait for the ball,” Paige said. “I’m still getting used to being active as a 2 rather than just, you know, being the 2.”
There’s a lot of that going around. Center Joel James admitted the team was still learning how to play with each other, “especially with McAdoo at the 3, it’s kind of awkward.”
Until the NCAA rules on Hairston and McDonald, Carolina will have to make awkward feel and look like normal.
“And the end of the day, like coach always says, we’re basketball players,” McAdoo said. “He didn’t recruit us all necessarily to play one solid position. But to go out there and play with each other and win a basketball game.”
• Williams is still looking for a starting center. James started the game there and both Meeks and Desmond Hubert also got their time.
“Tonight was a little shaky at the 5 spot,” James said. “Coach is looking for a guy, ultimately, who can rebound. In the first part of the game, we were just giving up all the loose rebounds so he kept rotating 5s in and out.”
James finished with three rebounds in 16 minutes. Meeks came off the bench for 11 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes of play. Hubert had six rebounds -- four offensive -- and added eight points.
• Paige had a 2-on-1 fast break and tried to complete a behind-the-back pass to Brice Johnson, but he wrapped the ball too tight and his pass went out of bounds.
“[Williams] didn’t say anything to me, he turned around to the crowd and told them ‘that’s the dumbest basketball play he’d ever seen,’ and then he just looked at me,” Paige said. “He didn’t have to say anything -- I already knew as soon as it hit my foot. Yeah. That was a great decision on my part. It’s good to get it out of the way when it doesn’t count I guess.”