By Megan Morketter, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL - Usually in the spotlight for his pregame "Jump Around" dance ritual, Leslie McDonald showcased a new set of moves on the court Saturday night as the redshirt junior started his first career game as a Tar Heel.
McDonald posted 24 points and four assists against UAB, setting new career highs in both categories. This was his second record-breaking game of the season, as the guard previously posted 21 points against Mississippi State.
For McDonald, who earned 18 of his points and four assists in the second half, his successful night should be attributed to the offense's give and take.
"I knew second half I had to turn it on a little bit, defensively and offensively...being a little bit aggressive and just getting my teammates open," said McDonald. "The thing about it is, once you work to get your teammates open, your teammates try to get you open."
Dexter Strickland, standing in for the injured point guard Marcus Paige, recognized this trend as well. Having played with McDonald for over three years now, Strickland has a good sense of when to feed his teammate.
"All I have to do is pass (McDonald) the ball," Strickland said. "That's the easiest job on the floor. Me being with Leslie, knowing where he likes to shoot...it was important for me to get to that spot and make sure he's in his comfort zone to knock down shots."
Fighting back from a torn ACL all last season, McDonald refuses to take his position this year for granted. The guard looks at his injury as a blessing in disguise for it pushed him to get back to full strength and then some.
Continuously working with assistant coach Hubert Davis to improve his shot in practice, McDonald intends to become a consistent offensive force for the Tar Heels. Fellow guard Reggie Bullock saw this work pay off for his teammate against UAB.
According to Bullock, when McDonald's shots are falling, Carolina's offense flows more fluidly. The Kinston native noted that if McDonald finds his rhythm, it spreads defenders, creating more consistent scoring options for the team.
"No team can really guard two shooters because if you help somewhere on either wing, there's an open shooter that's going to get a shot," said Bullock. "So I feel like (McDonald) definitely helped spread the floor for us tonight and played well for us."
Bullock was not the only one impressed with McDonald and the rest of Carolina's offense Saturday night. Jerod Haase, current head coach at UAB and former UNC assistant coach, couldn't help but light-heartedly comment on the Tar Heels' shooting prowess.
"I told those guys afterwards I thought they liked me better than that," Haase said. "They shot the heck out of the basketball."
McDonald looks forward to the next opportunity to top his records, but in the meantime, the guard is prepared to give whatever the team needs from him.
"If I have to play long minutes, I'll play long minutes," said McDonald. "If I have to play spot minutes, I can play spot minutes. I'm going to play the same way I've been playing for years, and that's playing like Leslie McDonald."