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No. 21 Tar Heels hold off Pirates 93-87

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No. 21 Tar Heels hold off Pirates 93-87

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) James Michael McAdoo scored 19 points to help No. 21 North Carolina hold off East Carolina 93-87 on Saturday.

P.J. Hairston added 18 for the Tar Heels (8-2), who emerged from a weeklong break due to fall exams with their third straight victory. North Carolina shot 55 percent in the first half to build a 16-point lead at the break, but the Pirates - coached by former UNC guard Jeff Lebo - outplayed the Tar Heels through much of the second half and made it a tough run to the finish.

Akeem Richmond scored 17 points to lead East Carolina (6-2), an instate program making its first trip to Chapel Hill. The Pirates kept cutting into UNC's lead and got as close as four points in the final minute, though they couldn't overtake the Tar Heels on their home court.

The Pirates outscored the Tar Heels 61-51 after halftime.

Lebo played for Dean Smith and then-assistant Roy Williams at UNC from 1985-89, and even played in the first game in the Smith Center as a freshman in January 1986.

He had coached against his alma mater once before, losing 85-59 here while at Tennessee Tech during the 1999-2000 season. The Pirates made this one much closer after a slow start with a tenacious performance.

After trailing 42-26 at the break, East Carolina played more aggressively and got into the double-bonus at the foul line by midway through the second half. The Pirates kept trading baskets with the Tar Heels down the stretch and inching closer before Richmond knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute, the second bringing East Carolina within 89-85 with 26.6 seconds left.

Dexter Strickland answered with a pair of free throws to push the lead back to six. Then, after East Carolina's Marshall Guilmette's layup, Leslie McDonald had a slam with 10.5 seconds left that ultimately sealed the victory.

Still, there was plenty for Williams to feel frustrated about in this one - and some of that showed midway through the second half.

Less than a minute after the Pirates had pulled to within 47-40 with 14:26 left, Williams - who typically hoards his timeouts - burned one and spent the entire stoppage screaming at his flat team from one knee.

His team eventually responded with a burst, running off a 7-0 run to rebuild some cushion and later take a 71-53 lead on Reggie Bullock's layup with 7:16 left. But the Pirates didn't go away.

East Carolina shot 53 percent in the second half, including 6-for-13 from 3-point range.

There was a moment of silence before the game due to Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

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Which team is closer to contention: the Wizards or Grizzlies?

Which team is closer to contention: the Wizards or Grizzlies?

While watching the Wizards take on another rebuilding team, as they did on Saturday night in their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it's only natural to compare the stages of those respective rebuilds and wonder which team is closer. That may be an even more interesting question with a game like Saturday's that matched the Wizards against a team doing things a decidedly different way.

In a sense, the Wizards are where the Grizzlies were last season. Memphis had unexpectedly bottomed out the year before, enough to land Jaren Jackson Jr. in the draft. And, like the Wizards this year, they were holding onto their core veterans, in their case Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol.

But the Grizzlies didn't bounce back into playoff contention like they had hoped and ended up trading both Gasol and Conley, and arguably too late. The Wizards wish to avoid that fate with Bradley Beal and John Wall.

Neither the Wizards (7-17) or Grizzlies (9-17) are a good team right now and both would like to be back in the playoff mix sooner than later, maybe even next year. So, who is closer?

The Grizzlies have the more impressive young core with Jackson and Ja Morant. Both are just 20 years old and they each look like future All-Stars, if not All-NBA talents.

Jackson is averaging 17.6 points and 1.2 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three on six attempts per game. He's a two-way unicorn who can make plays like a guard and has potential to become an elite rim protector.

Morant is the early favorite for rookie of the year, averaging 18.7 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 42.6 percent from long range. He has future star written all over him with a game reminiscent of a young Wall or Russell Westbrook.

The Grizzlies appear to have hit on their high draft picks, but have also nailed later ones, the type of moves that separate the best front offices. Brandon Clarke, the 21st pick this past June, looks like a steal. And Dillon Brooks, a second round pick in 2017, is a solid young player.

But the Wizards also have an emerging young core with Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner. None of them are as good as Jackson or Morant, but they are good players on the rise. And, most importantly, the Wizards have Beal.

While Jackson and Morant could someday be stars, Beal already is one and he's signed long-term. Potential is a commodity in the NBA, but nothing is guaranteed for young teams and young players. Just look at the Bulls and Hawks this season.

Now, the Grizzlies do have something the Wizards would absolutely love to have and that is real financial flexibility. They have close to $70 million in salary coming off the books this summer and have the second-lowest payroll committed for next season of any team in the NBA, second only to Atlanta.

The Wizards, meanwhile, are strapped with Wall's supermax contract which, depending on how he returns from a torn Achilles, could be an albatross for years to come. Though cap space doesn't mean the Grizzlies will be able to lure free agents, as Memphis has never been mistaken for a prime destination, but it's a preferable spot to be in. Wall's deal may prevent the Wizards from keeping players they would otherwise re-sign, when Memphis should have no such problem.

So, so far we have the Grizzlies with a better young nucleus and a much better salary cap situation. The Wizards, though, have the proven star and may have two if Wall returns to form.

But here's what may give the Wizards the edge, or at least secure a push. The Grizzlies have to give one of their next two first round picks to Boston by way of a 2015 trade. It is top-6 protected this year and unprotected in 2021 if it doesn't convey this June. That could be a major problem for a team trying to build through the draft.

Also, the Wizards are lucky to be in the Eastern Conference. Though the Grizzlies geographically should be in the East, they remain in the West which has been the superior conference basically since Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls.

There is, of course, no definitive answer to the root question of this analysis. The easiest way to settle it would be to say the Grizzlies have a higher ceiling at this point because of Morant and Jackson, but the Wizards probably have the more likely path to the playoffs next season, given they play in the East and have two guys with a track record of getting there.

But as we compare the teams, keep in mind what Memphis wanted to do and what they ended up doing in terms of trading their veteran stars. The Wizards don't want to take their rebuild that far, but sometimes things don't go according to plan. Just ask the Grizzlies.

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Mac McClung is here to save Georgetown's season when the Hoyas need it most

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Mac McClung is here to save Georgetown's season when the Hoyas need it most

WASHINGTON - Short-handed and amid turmoil within the Georgetown program, Mac McClung has proven to be the savior of the Hoyas season. 

As soon as things went south for Georgetown, with three players facing legal problems and the starting point guard announcing his intent to transfer, McClung has risen to the occasion. The sophomore guard has emerged as the team’s leader and face of the team with a daunting half of the season remaining. He’s the must-see attraction and now it’s more than just for his impressive dunking abilities. 

Saturday against long-standing rival Syracuse he delivered again. On top of a lethal pull-up buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first half, he led all scorers with 26 points on 7-16 shooting. It was his third straight contest with 19 points or more – the first such stretch of his young career. 

The three games are also the first since the accusations against now-former Georgetown players were made public. First, it was losing James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc, earlier this week they added Galen Alexander and Myron Gardner to that list. 

There's no question McClung has taken it upon himself to lead this team and his play has risen with it. Averaging 26 points in the three games when the team has needed him most, he has propelled Georgetown to three of their four biggest wins of the season. 

But this isn’t the first display that Mac McClung is different than just your average elite scorer. Within 12 games of his stay at the Hilltop, the Hoyas had broken from their tradition of freshman not speaking to the media. Last season he became the first to do so since 1981.

Quickly it was evident that McClung was more than the dunking sensation that rose his recruiting profile. He’s a bonafide scorer in the collegiate game and the rest of his play is just as electric as his dunks. 

This year he’s the leader Georgetown most certainly needs, now down to nine scholarship players. His first comment after his stellar performance in one of the biggest rivalries in the sport was shouting out the Hoyas’ men’s soccer team competing in the College Cup. 

The buzz around the 6-foot-2 guard is different too. Every time the ball hits his hands the crowd draws their breath in anticipation of what’s about to occur. It’s as if a change in the air would cause one to miss his greatness. 

There’s no missing what is in store for McClung in his Georgetown career. There are two and a half years remaining in his eligibility. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim gave him a glowing endorsement and believes he will flourish with a new point guard who'll allow McClung to play the two spot in the line-up. 

But for now, it is McClung saving Georgetown’s season. The Hoyas are at 7-3 and ranked No. 44 in KenPom as of this writing. No one saw this three-game run coming for the Hoyas. It doesn’t sound like it’s going to stop any time soon. 

“That’s what happens when you face challenges, you either break apart or come together and I think we’ve came together,” McClung said.

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