By Ben Brown
Early Wednesday afternoon, the North Carolina basketball team and its fans received the long-awaited news that senior guard Leslie McDonald had regained his eligibility a few hours before the team was set to take on Texas.
Getting McDonald back on the court provided another dimension to the team offensively, and the fans in attendance at the Dean E. Smith Center showed their appreciation for the Memphis, Tenn. product with a standing ovation when he entered the game early in the first half.
North Carolina's struggles shooting the ball from distance have been well documented throughout the season so far, and the need for a perimeter shooting threat has been obvious. In McDonald's return he immediately improved the Tar Heel offense once he found his rhythm as he poured in 15 points off the bench, connecting on four three-pointers in the process.
Despite Carolina's 86-83 loss to Texas, McDonald showed exactly how he can be an asset to the team moving forward.
"Shooting is one of my specialties," said McDonald. "Being able to bring that shooting ability to the team, I think that can help us out and spread the floor out a little bit on our opponents. And just help Marcus out, he's been seeing a lot of box-and-ones so I just want to try and take some of the pressure off him."
Having McDonald on the court has multiple effects on the North Carolina offense because of the way he pulls a defender away from the middle of the floor. This in turn opens up more driving lanes for guards Marcus Paige and Nate Britt to get to the basket, or to create shots for their teammates. McDonald's presence on the floor also helps to give the Tar Heel big men like James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks the space to operate down low with one-on-one matchups.
Additionally, having an extra shooter will force teams to be more hesitant to play zone defenses that are quick to collapse the middle of the floor with any sort of penetration.
"I definitely felt like I had more room down low a couple of times when I caught the ball on the block," McAdoo said. "Especially having Leslie and Marcus on the floor at the same time I definitely feel like it will help our offense."
Along with North Carolina's lack of an outside shooting threat other than Paige, free throw shooting has also been a struggle so far in the 2013 season. The free throw woes continued in the loss to Texas, and McDonald uncharacteristically was one of the players who struggled from the charity stripe.
However, McDonald's 3-for-8 performance from the line Wednesday night was more of an aberration than the norm, and can be chalked up to rust more than anything. McDonald is one of the best shooters on the team, and his career 73 percent mark from the line suggest he will be more efficient moving forward.
"I'm disappointed in my free throws, and I know I'm better than that," McDonald said. "I'm known to shoot a high percentage from the free throw line, but it's just something that I have to work at."
Although Carolina shot 51 percent from the free throw line against Texas, the team was still in the game late because of the great equalizer in college basketball: three pointers. McDonald and Paige combined to hit a season high nine threes in the game, which helped prevent Texas from going on extended runs which would have put the game out of reach.
The loss to Texas was disappointing for the Tar Heels, and fundamental improvements need to be made in order for the team to reach its full potential this season, but getting McDonald back was a huge boost for the team and will continue to make the Tar Heel offense more efficient and harder to defend moving forward.