Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Winners of three in a row, the Norse of Northern Kentucky have one of their toughest opponents to date sitting in front of them, as they compete against the 19th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels on Friday night.
Northern Kentucky, which competes as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, opened the 2013-14 campaign with seven defeats in eight tries, the lone win during the stretch coming in overtime versus Tulane. However, more recently the Norse have found a rhythm with three straight triumphs, the latest being a 72-65 finale versus Navy at home last weekend.
Meanwhile the Tar Heels, in the midst of a six-game homestand, have won four of their last five decisions, although the team is still trying to shake off setbacks against Belmont at home and UAB on the road. Last Saturday, UNC ended up going to overtime against visiting Davidson and eventually squeezed out a 97-85 victory.
Part of the struggle for North Carolina in the last game was due to the fact that the squad was dealing with the off-the-court issues concerning Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston. While the NCAA cleared the former, making it possible for him to rejoin the program, the same was not the case for the latter as the school told the NCAA that it would not be seeking his reinstatement, effectively ending the career of Hairston with the Tar Heels.
As far as an all-time series between the teams is concerned, this is the first-ever meeting.
Trailing by six at the break and as many as 11 points in the first half to Navy last weekend, the Norse went from shooting only 40 percent from the field through the first 20 minutes to 62.5 percent after the break in order to bring the victory home. Four starters scored in double figures for the hosts, with Jalen Billups and Todd Johnson both producing 16 points, the former not only shooting 6-of-8 from the floor, but also clearing a team-best 11 rebounds. Jordan Jackson and Tyler White both dropped in 11 points, with White combining with Johnson to knock down 7-of-11 shots behind the 3-point line.
Although he has played in only nine of the team's 11 games, starting seven, Jackson is still the top scorer overall for the program with 14.3 ppg, converting an impressive 53.9 percent of his field goal chances, but a not-so- hot 58.0 percent at the free-throw line. Not only does Jackson pace the group in the scoring column, he is also first in assists with 4.7 per outing and has team-highs with 29 assists and 17 steals. White checks in with 10.4 ppg, but because he has taken more than half of his field goal attempts from beyond the arc where he is only 34.7 percent accurate, his overall effort from the floor is suffering as well at just 38.3 percent.
In a game that featured nine ties and 15 lead changes, the fact that UNC was still able to get the meeting with Davidson to overtime, despite not taking even a single 3-point shot in the second half, was a bit of a miracle in itself. Nevertheless, when the Heels finally made it to the bonus session they shot a perfect 3-of-3 from the floor and 11-of-12 at the free-throw line in order to take the win. J.P. Tokoto led five players in double figures with 22 points, adding 11 rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots to his final line, followed by James M. McAdoo with 19 points on only 5-of-16 shooting from the floor. Marcus Paige pitched in with 17 points, Kennedy Meeks 13 off the bench, and Nate Britt 11 points for the hosts.
Through 11 games, UNC is scoring 80.2 ppg and yet the average could be even better if not for the fact that the team has converted just 61.3 percent at the charity stripe, compared to 71.0 percent for the competition. Paige, the top scorer with 19.4 ppg, has more than carried his weight with 92.3 percent at the line, but the same cannot be said for McAdoo (14.0 ppg) who has knocked down only 55.8 percent of his opportunities. The same goes for Brice Johnson (11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) who has converted just 58.6 percent of his chances at this stage.