ETSU-North Carolina Preview

The Associated Press

A pair of favorable home matchups might present North Carolina with a good opportunity to improve its overall defensive play.

The No. 20 Tar Heels look to focus on that end of the court Saturday night when they host East Tennessee State.

Coming off an 83-59 loss at top-ranked Indiana on Nov. 27, North Carolina (6-2) bounced back with a 102-84 home win over UAB last Saturday. Though the Tar Heels shot 52.9 percent and topped 100 points for the second time in three games, they also allowed 55 second-half points and found themselves trading baskets with the Blazers much of the night.

"Offensively we did some nice things," coach Roy Williams said. "We have guys who can shoot the ball. ... Defensively we weren't very good, but we've got to continue to work on it.

"Everything looks pretty when the ball goes into the basket except when the other team's got it and keep getting up good shots for them."

Williams' young and impressionable squad averages 84.1 points overall but has yielded 79.8 per game while splitting its last four contests. That stretch began with an 82-71 loss to Butler at the Maui Invitational.

"We just have to do better and work as a team," said senior guard Dexter Strickland, who had 11 points and nine assists versus UAB. "All five guys have to get back and play good team basketball."

The Tar Heels have a chance to fine-tune things defensively against ETSU (2-4) and next Saturday versus East Carolina before visiting Texas on Dec. 19. North Carolina has won 77 straight home games against unranked non-conference opponents since a loss to Ohio on Feb. 20, 2002.

Offensively, Williams had to be pleased after his team shot 71.9 percent in the second half and recorded a season-high 28 assists overall last weekend. Junior Leslie McDonald scored 24 points in his first career start while Reggie Bullock had 17 and James Michael McAdoo added 15 with 12 rebounds.

McDonald, who missed last season with a torn ACL, may not be in the starting lineup again with freshman point guard Marcus Paige on track to return from a shoulder injury, but he'll try to continue to provide a scoring boost.

"I feel pretty good," said McDonald, who has hit 17 of 34 from 3-point range this season. "I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing, keep working on my shot and keep being consistent."

North Carolina looks to improve to 6-0 against ETSU in the teams' first meeting since the Tar Heels' 118-65 victory in 1987.

Facing a difficult task to begin with, the short-handed Buccaneers' slim chances for an upset may shrink even more if starting point guard Petey McClain misses a second straight contest with an ankle injury. ETSU is already playing without seniors Marcus Dubose (15.5 points per game) and Sheldon Cooley (9.5), who were suspended indefinitely after being arrested on drug charges last month.

Without McClain, the Bucs shot 28.8 percent and committed 18 turnovers in Wednesday's 70-45 loss at James Madison.

"We are really facing a tough situation right now without Petey," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said.

Bucs freshman Lester Wilson averages a team-leading 19.7 points.

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