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February 27, 2010

Freshman McDonald helps Heels get past slumping Wake Forest

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - North Carolina freshman Leslie McDonald couldn't help himself from counting down the minutes.

From the time the Tar Heels had a 10-point lead with seven minutes to go until the horn finally sounded on their 77-68 win against Wake Forest, McDonald kept checking the clock and thinking, "almost there."

Finally, he got to stand in the locker room, sporting a big smile despite holding a bandage to his bloodied chin and thrilled to be the leading scorer in a game that snapped a three-game UNC losing streak.

"It boosts the team's confidence up," said McDonald, who scored a career-high 16 points off the bench. "It shows the world we're still gonna battle. We're not gonna give up."

For the Tar Heels (15-14, 4-10 in the ACC), the win not only prevented them from dropping below .500, it also gave some mental relief from a stretch in which they lost seven of eight games previously.

"It feels good for sure," senior Marcus Ginyard said. "But winning this game doesn't mean we haven't gotten our butts kicked all year. I just think we were a little more confident. We just believed we could play better than we have. It worked out for us."

The biggest difference between this game and UNC's home loss to the Demon Deacons (18-8, 8-6) earlier this season was keeping Wake's outside shooters from going off.

In that game, C.J. Harris and Ishmael Smith each scored 20 points to outscore UNC's starting backcourt 40-15.

This time, Smith, Harris and L.D. Williams combined to shoot just 8 for 37 from the field, and even leading scorer Ari Stewart-who had 16 off the bench-shot just 6 for 16 as Carolina held the Demon Deacons to 29.7 percent shooting in the game.

"It just has us ready to attack them," Will Graves said. "When they hit a shot, you take a deep breath. When they miss, you go to the other end like, 'Let's keep pounding.'"

All nine Tar Heels who played in the game scored.

Ginyard grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds (and has 23 in the past two games) and freshman John Henson added 12.

Point guard Larry Drew II had 10 points and eight assists, and though he missed eight free throws in the game, he hit his last two with 22 seconds to go.

It was the first time this season that the Tar Heels won without Deon Thompson scoring in double figures.

Perhaps most impressive was that Carolina didn't give up a big run to the Deacs, a problem that has plagued it in losses this year.

When Wake scored five in a row to cut UNC's lead to five with six minutes to go, Graves answered with a 3-pointer.

"We didn't let a 5-0 run turn into an 18-0 run," Ginyard said.

That made McDonald breathe a little easier as he continued his countdown to the win.

He contributed himself, hitting a layup that gave the Heels a 73-68 lead with 51 seconds to go and then drawing a charge on Harries nine seconds later at the other end of the floor.

That's what gave the freshman his bloody chin, and, eventually, his big smile in the locker room.

"It feels good to be on the winning side of a game," McDonald said.


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