Tar Heels' tuneup trial to be tested by McNeese State today

Dec. 21, 2012 @ 11:00 PM

Last weekend, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was more frustrated than he had been in a long time — and that was before the 18-point loss Wednesday at Texas.
After mentioning a missed fast-break layup, a rebound that was fumbled out of bounds and 18 turnovers, Williams said after the Texas game: “We had so many things that it was like a comedy of errors, except it wasn’t very blankety-blank funny.”
Now the Tar Heels (8-3) have just two games remaining before conference play, including today’s home game against McNeese State (12 p.m., ESPNU).
In UNC’s last game at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels have up 61 second-half points before holding on to beat East Carolina by six, prompting Williams’ initial concerns.
Though McNeese State (6-3) has won five in a row, including its first-ever win against a Big 12 team Sunday at Texas Tech, this is UNC’s last chance to gain confidence before a visit by No. 21 UNLV next Saturday, followed by the ACC slate.
Williams said that junior small forward Reggie Bullock, who had a team-high 18 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and no turnovers against Texas, was the only Tar Heel who played hard and intelligently on Wednesday.
“We haven’t played well any of those three (losses),” Williams said. “The other games that we’ve won we probably should’ve won because we were just more gifted. I’ve got to do a heckuva lot better job and they’ve got to buy in. We’re just doing some of the silliest things out there that I’ve ever seen.”
For example, before the game Williams stressed keeping Texas off the offensive glass. Then two of the Longhorns’ first three baskets came off offensive rebounds.
After 11 games, UNC seems no closer to figuring out its starting center. Joel James was given the nod against the Longhorns, but didn’t take a shot and had one rebound and four turnovers in seven minutes. Backup centers Desmond Hubert and Brice Johnson combined to play 14 minutes.
Instead, the minutes went to freshman forward J.P. Tokoto, who started the second half and played 19 minutes, recording four points, six rebounds and two blocks.
“He just gave us a little more effort and we weren’t getting much out of the big guys,” Williams said. “It’s a privilege to play, it’s not anybody’s right to play. You’ve got to earn it.”
Still, there are bigger issues than just the fifth starter — even the Tar Heels’ trademark identity is in question. After years of priding itself on an up-tempo offense, UNC was outrun by the Longhorns, who had a 14-8 edge in fast-break points and continually showed more hustle.
“We like to say we’re a running team but we haven’t shown it yet, and they did a better job of pushing the pace and getting us back on our heels,” Williams said. “I just think everything that happened during the course of the game they were more aggressive than we were. It just seemed like they got every loose ball.”
NOTE — This will be the first basketball meeting between the two programs. The UNC football team beat McNeese State 35-27 at Kenan Stadium in ’08.