In the 72 hours after Carolina lost at NC State on Saturday night, there was a lot of talk about diving on the floor. P.J. Hairston didn't do it in a key second half situation against the Wolfpack, and Roy Williams singled that play out as a key factor in limiting the sophomore's minutes in Raleigh.
It took only five minutes into Tuesday's road trip to Boston College for the Tar Heels to stop talking about getting on the floor--and start doing it. With the Eagles starting uncharacteristically hot from the floor and building an 8-2 lead, it was--of course--Hairston who first trimmed the UNC deficit with a three-pointer.
Then, on the next Carolina possession, both Hairston and James Michael McAdoo picked up floor burns chasing a loose ball. It was Hairston who got on the floor first, sending the ball caroming into the backcourt. Boston College's Patrick Heckmann had the better angle and the inside lane to the ball, but James Michael McAdoo had the advantage of two days of practice spent hearing his head coach preach the value of playing with constant effort.
McAdoo first used his speed to close the gap, then threw himself on the floor to ensure he'd beat Heckmann to the ball. After retaining possession, the trip ended with Hairston nailing another three-pointer.
"In my opinion, his dive on the floor was the most spectacular play of the game," Williams said at his radio show Wednesday night. "It could've been a layup for them, and on the other end we got a three-pointer. That's the sense of urgency we've needed all along."
His teammates noticed. At the next dead ball, McAdoo was greeted by Desmond Hubert, who was shouting, "Yeah, Mac! That's what I'm talking about! Way to start us off!"
"That play brought the energy," Hubert said after the game. "Lately, Jackson (Simmons) has been the only person on our team really diving for balls like that. For Mac to stretch out like that, when it wasn't like the ball was even that close to him, it pumped us up."
When Carolina had completed the 82-70 win, and McAdoo had earned his third double-double in the past four games (17 points and 10 rebounds), the big sophomore immediately knew the play even before it was referenced to him.
"That play was the attitude every player on this team has to have," said McAdoo, who has been more vocal about wanting to assume a leadership role since the loss at State. "It's something Coach looks for in his players, because he wants us to do whatever it takes to help the team win. It's a winning play. And in the back of my head, I was actually thinking, 'This is something Coach wants us to do.'"
As Williams reviewed the stat sheet in the immediate aftermath of the win, he stopped on McAdoo's line of 17 and 10. "Where's James Michael?" the head coach asked from across the room. He caught the sophomore's eye. "17 and 10, big fella!" Williams said with a grin.
Of course, the head coach also found ways to prod McAdoo to get better. McAdoo took a career-high tying 20 shots, making just seven. He hasn't made more than 50 percent of his field goal attempts since going 7-for-9 against UAB on Dec. 1, a stretch of 12 games. Over that same dozen-game stretch, he's shooting just 41.3% from the field, a considerable drop from the 49.5% he shot in the first eight games of the season.
"We've got to get James Michael to shoot a higher percentage," Williams said. "I asked him if he needed an ice pack."
McAdoo initially thought the head coach was referencing his bruise-risking dive for the ball. Williams clarified he intended the ice pack for McAdoo's elbow, which had just fired 20 shots.
But it's also worth noting that McAdoo has elevated his activity in every area-not just shooting-since the Tar Heels began conference play. He's grabbing a rebound every 3.5 minutes played, easily the best figure on the team. He's taking 6.1 free throws per game, up from 3.7 attempts per game in nonconference games. He's also limited his turnovers, decreasing from over three per game against non-ACC foes to two per game during the league schedule.
And despite all that, the play that earned him the most praise in the win over the Eagles was his recovery of a loose ball, something that doesn't appear on the stat sheet at all.
"I felt that I lacked the mindset of working and acting like a leader at the beginning of the season," McAdoo said. "It's a learning curve, and I'm trying to focus in on playing that way right now."