Finding Efficiency

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- James Michael McAdoo had the ball on the fast break under unusual circumstances: in position to ignite the fuse rather than provide the explosion.

And there was nowhere else he would have rather been.

After grabbing a defensive rebound, McAdoo sprinted up the court with three dribbles. He delivered a gorgeous bounce pass to a streaking J.P. Tokoto, who took off from outside the lane on the right wing to throw down a wow-worthy dunk.

The second-half highlight gave North Carolina a 27-point lead in its 84-51 victory over UNC Wilmington on Tuesday night, providing a lasting image from one of McAdoo's best performances.

"That felt good," McAdoo said. "That was probably the best thing that I'll remember about today."

McAdoo had plenty of potential favorites. He finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds in his second double-double of the season, making 11 of 14 shots from the field.

"I thought James Michael was really efficient tonight," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "That's something you love having."

McAdoo has had plenty of good games in the past, of course. But his critics usually could find something — too many fadeaway shots, missed free throws, turnovers — allowing them to say, "Yeah, but …"

The knits on Tuesday were too small to pick.

Sure, McAdoo missed one free throw and had a turnover. But he also had three steals, two of which he turned into easy baskets for himself as the Tar Heels built their lead in the first half.

"I was really just trying to be solid in every area," McAdoo said.

In the second half, his full game was on display: an and-one turnaround jumper, the rebound and dish to Tokoto, an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Nate Britt.

And all of that was in a span of 41 seconds on three consecutive UNC possessions.

McAdoo took it easy for the next 88 seconds before delivering a two-handed dunk and a three-point play on a putback on consecutive trips. His work done, he could head to the bench with the Tar Heels ahead 71-41 with 5:34 to play.

"It was great," UNC's Brice Johnson said. "That's the way we need him to play every game. He's been playing well. He had a couple of bad games, but he's starting to come back to where he needs to be."

The same also could be said for Johnson, who had 14 points and seven rebounds while returning to a reserve role.

Johnson had started UNC's previous two games in the aftermath of Joel James' knee injury, but he failed to produce as much offensively or defensively as Williams wanted. As his struggles mounted, beginning with the game against Texas in which James was injured, Johnson worked himself into a funk.

"I just had a string of bad games those last three games," said Johnson, who has expressed a preference to start. "I was just worried about different things, not making shots. Worrying about, when I missed a shot, I'd let that linger with me, and I wouldn't do anything else. I just let the little things bother me. It just bugged me to the point where I couldn't play anymore. It just shut me down for some reason.

"Even my dad, he called me, and he was like, ‘Why are you shut down? It just seems like you're not playing the way you should be playing right now. You need to forget about it and just keep playing.' "

Johnson's return to the bench gave freshman Kennedy Meeks a chance to start at center against UNC Wilmington. Meeks went scoreless in 16 minutes, shooting 0 of 3 from the field with five rebounds and four turnovers. Johnson and Meeks have played well off the bench, but neither has taken advantage of the opportunity to start in James' absence.

"When Joel gets healthy, we might put Joel back in there," Williams said. "We could put Brice in there. I'm not married to any individual starting."

Johnson made his case to get the next chance. He was 6 of 11 from the field against the Seahawks after shooting 12 of 31 in the previous four games combined.

He scored all seven of his second-half points on consecutive possessions after McAdoo departed with the game in hand. Johnson sandwiched a three-point play on a putback in between jump shots to cap his evening.

"I just try to go in there and do what Coach needs me to do," Johnson said. "I tried to do that when I was starting, but it seemed like I didn't, and I ended up right back on the bench. I just came off the bench again and did what I needed to do."

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