If you wanted to know what would happen if a team decided to take Marcus Paige away for much of the game and no one else stepped up? This was that game. Couple Paige's offensive struggles with UNC being outclassed on the backboards to the tune of 52-37, the Tar Heels fell into a hole they couldn't quite climb out of and fell 63-49 to UAB.
Needless to say UNC got off to a very flat start as UAB jumped out to a double-digit lead controlling every aspect of the game. The Blazers were simply more aggressive from the play of Chad Frazier who scored 25 points to seemingly getting to every loose ball and rebound. While the Tar Heels' defense improved over the course of the game and UAB missed shot after shot, defensive rebounds were difficult to come by, even in instances where Tar Heels had position or got a hand on the ball. The result was UAB taking control of the game early before holding off a late Tar Heel rally.
Despite the fact UAB shot the ball poorly in the second half and even with UNC's having trouble on the boards, this game ultimately came down to the Tar Heels and the utter lack of offensive execution. UAB made a concerted effort to lockdown Marcus Paige and it worked well since no other Tar Heel could put together any semblance of a solid offensive game except for J.P. Tokoto. The sophomore forward had probably his best game of the season leading the Heels with 16 points on 7-11 shooting. Paige did manage to score 13 points on 6-16 shooting but was 0-6 from three and Brice Johnson failed to reach double figures for the first time this season with eight points and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes.
Then there is James Michael McAdoo who has struggled in three straight games since his 27 point outing versus Belmont. Whereas McAdoo seemed to be just a non-factor in the games last weekend, he had plenty of scoring chances but could not convert on them. McAdoo went 3-13 from the floor missing on everything from three pointers to short jumpers to shots at point blank range. Some of those shots were missed badly in addition to his continued struggles at the free throw line.
UNC's troubles in this game and most likely in games going forward come down to not enough consistent offensive options. When a defense has almost no need to honor the jump shots of multiple players on the floor, it leads to serious problems in offensive execution. There also may have been instances where four Tar Heels were looking or waiting for Paige to do something instead moving without the ball or making good decisions. In the end, UAB negated UNC's supposed strength of size, locked down the best shooter and dared anyone else to beat them. No one, besides Tokoto took them up on the offer and the Tar Heels came up short.
Without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald there are going to probably be more nights like this than the game UNC had versus Louisville. Even in a game where the opposing team stops hitting shots, the Tar Heel offensive is incapable of enough offense to cut into a lead or take control of the game. There are plenty of reasons for that and plenty of blame being tossed around over the current state of things. The bottom line is losing two key players to NCAA issues is the biggest factor in UNC's struggles. This a team missing a 18-20 ppg scoring threat who, alongside Paige, can stretch the defense and open up interior space for the Tar Heel big men to score and rebound. Without Hairston and with Paige effectively covered, that spacing is gone and the offense grinds to a halt.
It isn't pretty and as long as Hairston and McDonald are out or if they never come back, it will continue to be a struggle at times.