Tar Heels unload, release on Oakland
After what North Carolina coach Roy Williams said was the most difficult offseason and preseason of his career, the Tar Heels began the season with one of the most dominant halves in his tenure at UNC.
With expected starters P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald wearing gray suits on the bench because of eligibility issues, the Tar Heels led by 37 points at halftime and cruised to an 84-61 win over Oakland at the Smith Center on Friday.
“I needed it a lot, myself,” Williams said. “I think the kids were invested. They really were. They were into it… We had great effort and we had great concentration. That’s the first two steps that you have to take to have great performances.”
Hairston, the team’s leading scorer, and McDonald, the team’s lone senior, sat out the game as part of an ongoing investigation by the NCAA and the school into potential violations. The uncertainty surrounding two of his key players – plus Hairston’s three traffic stops over the summer – added to a frustrating offseason for Williams and the school.
The Nov. 8 date for the opener was the earliest starting date in program history, and it still seemed like it couldn’t come soon enough. But UNC’s opening half allowed UNC to forget about its problems, at least for one game.
Without their two top shooters the Tar Heels still shot 74.2 percent in the first half against Oakland’s zone – the highest field goal percentage in any half in Williams’s 11 years as UNC’s head coach.
“The worst thing that’s happened to us is that (Hairston and McDonald) aren’t playing,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “They are still McDonald’s All-Americans out there, and they came out with a chip on their shoulder because they’ve heard all this crap.”
Sophomore Marcus Paige tied a career high with four 3-pointers on six attempts while sophomore J.P. Tokoto was 5 of 6 from the field in his first start.
“All the guys were being unselfish. Everything was clicking for us,” Paige said. “It was good to finally just get on the court and play, and play well, despite everything that’s going on.”
UNC finished with 25 assists on 33 field goals. Last year’s starting point guard, Paige moved to shooting guard to fill the void on the wings and finished with 14 points and five assists.
"I just gotta stay aggressive, especially with that lineup we have. We don’t have many shooters,” Paige said. “I just have to keep looking for my shot. Can’t get complacent, just chilling on the wings. I was able to find some openings in the zone.”
Tokoto, who averaged 2.6 points in limited minutes last season, finished with 13 points, five assists and four steals, through he also had five turnovers.
"I don’t really feel pressure," Tokoto said. "It’s an opportunity."
UNC’s expected standout also shined. Junior James Michael McAdoo, who was forced to play center last season, looked comfortable in his natural position of power forward, posting game highs of 21 points and nine rebounds. He scored the game’s first points on a 3-point play seven seconds in and added three highlight dunks early on, finishing off alley-oops from Tokoto and Brice Johnson and converting a pass from Jackson Simmons. McAdoo finished the first half with more field goals (seven) than Oakland (six).
Tokoto and McAdoo also held Oakland’s Travis Bader, who was fifth in the NCAA at 22.1 points per game last season, to two points in the first half. Bader finished with 18 points on 5 of 16 shooting and had five turnovers.
Though sophomore Joel James got the start at center, freshman Kennedy Meeks had 10 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes, and sophomore Brice Johnson also contributed 10 points in reserve.
“Our bench got 28 points,” Williams said. “I think we need to have that kind of performance from our bench every night.”
All 12 scholarship players scored for the Tar Heels, who never led by less than 23 after the 7:45 mark in the first half.
“It was just really fun just getting out there,” said McAdoo, who also said he was finally healthy after suffering a back injury last season. “We still have a long way to go. It’s definitely a positive though.”
NOTES – UNC has won 81 of its last 83 home openers. … Nate Britt became the ninth Tar Heel point guard to start his first game. He had three assists and three turnovers. … Oxford Webb High School product Isaiah Hicks scored his first points on a dunk in the final minute of the first half. The freshman forward finished with two points, five rebounds, two assists and a block in 11 minutes.
|No. 12 NORTH CAROLINA 84, OAKLAND 61|
Percentages: FG .364, FT .722.
3-Point Goals: 8-25, .320 (Bader 4-11, Mondy 2-6, Baenziger 1-1, Williams 1-5, Felder 0-1, McCune 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 0.
Turnovers: 14 (Bader 5, Mondy 4, Felder 3, McCune, Petros).
Steals: 10 (Mondy 6, Baenziger, Neely II, Bader, McCune).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .600, FT .650.
3-Point Goals: 5-13, .385 (Paige 4-7, Tokoto 1-3, McAdoo 0-1, Moody 0-1, Davis 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Hicks, Johnson).
Turnovers: 18 (Tokoto 5, Britt 3, McAdoo 2, Paige 2, Johnson 2, James, Davis, Meeks).
Steals: 10 (Tokoto 4, Johnson 2, Meeks, Simmons, Britt, Paige).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Brian Kersey, Jeremy Mosier, Alan Spainhour.