CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina coach Roy Williams has grown fond of a saying in his 25 years as a college head coach.
As many around the Atlantic Coast Conference try to figure out exactly how good the Tar Heels are, and whether they will be a contender to win the league, Williams falls back to his principle.
“There are some signs,” Williams said, “But I’ve got a saying: ‘If you can do it once, you can do it more than once.’”
North Carolina (12-5, 2-2) indeed has shown the ability to challenge Duke and N.C. State for the league title, but only in short stints and played alongside confusing periods where North Carolina doesn’t even look like an NCAA Tournament team.
There was the final 7:54 at Virginia, in which no Tar Heel besides Reggie Bullock scored as North Carolina collapsed and lost its ACC opener, a problem only highlighted in a home loss to Miami.
But then there was a soothing effort at Florida State in which North Carolina looked solid all game and earned a much-needed victory.
The season thus far was summed up Saturday against Maryland, when the Tar Heels raced to a 22-point halftime lead, only to score 20 points total in the second half while shooting less than 24 percent, though holding on to win.
The flashes are there for North Carolina – just not all the time.
“I saw it last weekend and I saw it for the first half (Saturday), but I’m one of those guys that wants to see it all the time,” Williams said.” So, no, I haven’t seen it all the time. But again, the first half, I’m giving myself a pep talk. I want to focus on the dadgum first half.”
Freshman point guard Marcus Paige called the first half “the best half we’ve played all year,” though Williams said that he was “about as ticked off as can be about the second half.”
Bullock scored 21 points in the first half and outscored Maryland by himself, while James Michael McAdoo added 11 before halftime.
In the second half, though, Bullock scored three points. McAdoo shot 3-for-9 from the floor, and all three makes were layups or dunks.
McAdoo said the urgency comes from Williams, though there still is a ways to go.
“It all comes from coach Roy, but there’s carryover where we actually have to go out there and do it,” McAdoo said. “Some of the games this year we haven’t done that at all, but as you can see, when we do do it like the first half, we’re a great basketball team. We can play phenomenal.
“Other times, like in the second half, when we let down, you can see glimpses of how we used to be and how we still can be.”
Though frustration has occurred, the Tar Heels still are in good shape at 34th in RPI.
The disconcerting part for North Carolina: Against the six best teams it has played, it is 1-5. All losses were by nine points or more, and three were blowouts.
Both Paige and Williams noted that if North Carolina will reach its potential, Bullock and McAdoo have to be consistently good.
“It’s good to have somebody like (Bullock) that kind of sparks our offense,” Paige said. “When he’s making shots, we’re just a tougher team, and our offense flows better like that.”
Against Maryland, the other eight Tar Heels besides Bullock and McAdoo shot a combined 8-for-34, which Williams attributed to too much one-on-one offense.
Williams said the tape would be a good learning tool, though North Carolina must have their two leaders be at their best.
“If we’re going to be a really good team, your best players gotta play,” Williams said. “The really good teams, their best players don’t play one really good game and take take five games off. ... (McAdoo and Bullock) are our two leaders on the court, and they’ve got to play that way.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.