Tar Heels put it together, put away UNCW
For sure, North Carolina fans are tired of watching their Tar Heels struggle to put away lesser opponents. But despite leading by only eight at halftime against UNC Wilmington on New Year’s Eve, something was different — and it wasn’t the Carolina blue uniforms.
Though the first half didn’t show it, the No. 19 Tar Heels came to the Smith Center ready to play. And after ratcheting up the defense in the second half, UNC blitzed Buzz Peterson’s Seahawks 84-51.
After some sluggish games recently — an overtime win over Davidson and a loss to Texas included — the Heels (10-3) enjoyed their first real laugher in nearly a month.
“It definitely felt good,” said James Michael McAdoo, who scored a game-high 23 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. “We came in with a good mindset in the first half, but things just didn’t go our way. But we kept plugging along, plugging along, and in the second half, it definitely felt good to finally play like we’re capable.”
Guard Marcus Paige (15 points) could sense his team was ready for UNCW (6-8 and losers of four games in a row), and the Heels fought through a tough first half.
“We kind of had a funk in the first half,” Paige said. “Obviously, we exploded in the second half and we were able to get some steals.”
The first 20 minutes were ugly for both teams, as UNC made 12 of 30 shots, while UNCW found baskets even more elusive, shooting 9 for 36. The Seahawks missed their first 13 shots and were 2 for 20 at one point, though they trailed only 31-23 at halftime.
A late 7-0 run by UNCW stopped the bleeding, but the second half clearly belonged to North Carolina. The Heels shot 62.9 percent, had 16 assists and caused 10 turnovers.
“First half, we didn’t shoot the ball very well because we took bad shots,” Tar Heel coach Roy Williams said. “Four or five different times, we had somebody shoot the ball when a teammate had a better shot. We talked about that at great length at halftime about being more unselfish and getting a better shot — and playing harder and doing a better job defensively.”
All went hand-in-hand in the second half, beginning with the defense. UNC’s half-court trap was much more effective, forcing five turnovers in the first five minutes as the Heels quickly pushed the lead to 43-25.
Later, UNC scored on 11 consecutive possessions, allowing Williams to clear his bench in the closing minutes.
“Really, you shoot 63 percent in the second half because you’re unselfish and you move yourself and the basketball,” Williams said. “If you do those things, you’re going to get better shots.”
Better shots also come from fastbreak chances, which the Heels got from their trapping defense.
“We worked on traps a lot in practice, and when we started doing those correctly, it really opened the game up,” Paige said. “That’s going to be a useful tool for us come ACC play.”
That starts Sunday at Wake Forest, and Williams hopes his team is ready.
“The level of intensity goes up about 10 levels, and you better be ready to go up with it — or just stay in the locker room,” Williams said. “It is a different level now: the intensity, the level of play, the level quickness, the level of strength — everything is so much higher now.
Freshman Nate Britt wondered if that was the case, so he asked backcourt mate Paige if the intensity level really went up that much.
“Ah, yeah,” Paige told him. “I struggled a lot the first few games in conference just because the attention to detail, the effort and the level of intensity in every game just jumps to a whole other level.”
NOTES — Another game, another struggle for a UNC starting big man. Freshman Kennedy Meeks got his first start, but he missed all three of his shots and had four turnovers. Meeks’ performance follows Brice Johnson’s two games where he started and scored 11 points and had five turnovers and Joel James’ game where he was injured early against Texas. “That’s kinda weird,” Paige said. “Coach kind of made fun of Brice. He had a couple bad games in a row, (but) he played better tonight. Kennedy gets the start, and I guess he might’ve had some jitters or something. The first pass just bounced right off his chest. It happens, but it’s kind of weird (that) it’s three or four games in a row.” Meeks got the start because Johnson “started the last two games and didn’t play well, so I decided to give Kennedy a shot,” Williams said. “When Joel gets healthy, we might put Joel back in there. We could put Brice in there. I’m not married to any individual starting.” Johnson had 14 points — and no turnovers — in 20 minutes against UNCW. … The Heels wore Carolina blue jersey for only the second time in the Smith Center, celebrating “Happy Blue Year.”
|No. 19 NORTH CAROLINA 84, N.C.-WILMINGTON 51|
Percentages: FG .311, FT .769.
3-Point Goals: 3-17, .176 (Hager 1-2, Dixon 1-3, Williams 1-5, Jackson 0-1, Eblen 0-2, Milson 0-4).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Eblen, Gettys, Reybold).
Turnovers: 17 (Williams 4, Eblen 4, Ogbodo 2, Dixon 2, Gettys, Spruill, Ponder, Jackson, Sherwood).
Steals: 11 (Ogbodo 2, Gettys 2, Milson 2, Dixon 2, Spruill, Eblen, Williams).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .523, FT .765.
3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Hicks 1-1, Paige 1-3, McDonald 1-4, Manor 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Paige, Meeks, Johnson).
Turnovers: 16 (Meeks 4, Tokoto 4, Paige 3, Hicks, Simmons, Hubert, McDonald, McAdoo).
Steals: 12 (McAdoo 3, Paige 3, Johnson 2, Britt 2, Tokoto, Meeks).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Tim Nestor, Sean Casady, Jeff Nichols.