Even the gloomiest of clouds have a silver lining.
I have harped on North Carolina's defense enough over the last few weeks, and that issue was still prevalent in its 85-67 loss to the Texas Longhorns. Despite the disappointing loss, there were some positives that came out of Wednesday's beat down.
Those positives could be possible turning points for Tar Heels Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo.
It was obvious before the season opened that McAdoo and Bullock would have to be the clear-cut leaders for UNC through not only their voices, but also their actions on the court. On Wednesday night, we caught a glimpse of the leadership and style of play that folks in Tar Heel Nation have been clamoring for.
During the offseason, I went out on a limb and labeled Reggie Bullock the go-to guy in Chapel Hill. I took notice of the small spurts of dominant play from him last season, showing me he was much more than the one-dimensional shooter he was perceived to be, with Harrison Barnes on the floor.
Unfortunately, Bullock had yet to live up to those accolades through the first 10 games of the season. Last night was a different story.
Bullock certainly wasn't impervious to the Longhorns' stingy perimeter defense, as he struggled to shoot 1-of-4 from three-point range. However, what we saw from Bullock was a guy that was finally willing to take it to the rack again and again.
Bullock finished 6-of-17 from the floor, getting to the line on three separate occasions and going 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. That's exactly the kind of play the Tar Heels need from their leader.
In the first 10 games of the season, 55.1 percent of Reggie Bullock's shots were three-pointers. That just doesn't cut it for a team lacking inside presence. On Wednesday night, only 23.5 percent of his attempts came from downtown.
Bullock needs to get away from that spot-up mentality and become a presence in the paint for this offense to thrive. He led the team with 18 points and a whopping 13 boards, to go along with two assists, one block and one steal.
“I told the players when we came in that we can’t keep playing like this,” Bullock said. “If we keep playing like this, teams are going to keep kicking our ass.”
I couldn't have said it better.
James Michael McAdoo laid down quite the second-half performance, too, and his effort should be acknowledged—especially by someone as hard on McAdoo as myself.
His first half was less than impressive. He snagged five rebounds, but was only able to add four points and one steal to his stat lines—not to mention four turnovers.
The second half was a different story, however, as McAdoo came out with his hair on fire. His shockingly aggressive and physical play led to 10 points, four rebounds (two offensive), five steals and only one turnover in the final 20 minutes of action.
McAdoo finished the night with 14 points, nine rebounds, two assists and six steals. He also shot 10 free throws for the second-consecutive game—a mark he has reached only one other time this season.
That's the James Michael McAdoo the Tar Heels need.
His lack of aggression has only amplified his deficiencies this season. When he plays like he did in the second half against Texas, it's much easier to see how far his potential could lead both McAdoo and the team.
Is it a possibility that Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo's performances were false positives? Absolutely.
But it could also be just the stepping stone they need to point the team in the right direction.