Tar Heels to face NCAA tourney-savvy Belmont today

Nov. 16, 2013 @ 08:13 PM

North Carolina coach Roy Williams knew scoring was going to be a struggle just from watching the first minute of his team’s 62-54 win over Holy Cross Friday night.

“In the first three possessions we took two shots and (had) a turnover and never made more than two passes in any of those three possessions, and that’s not very good basketball,” Williams said.

The Tar Heels will need to be more efficient today at the Smith Center against Belmont (4 p.m., ESPNU), which is coming off three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

UNC loves a fast pace and Holy Cross was coming off a 122-118 double-overtime win, but the teams combined to shoot 25 percent in a 25-25 first half that sophomore forward Brice Johnson described as the ugliest half he’d ever seen.

For UNC, the difference was selfishness on offense — players weren’t passing the ball around or setting screens.

“We played a lot of ‘me’ ball instead of ‘team’ ball,” guard Marcus Paige said.

It was a marked difference from the season-opener against Oakland, when the team had 25 assists on 33 field goals.

“How many shots did you see after one pass?” Johnson said after playing Holy Cross. “At the beginning of the game, people were just pulling up jumpers. That’s not how we play. Last game (against Oakland) we made four or five passes.”

The Tar Heels (2-0) are down to one proven shooter without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who will both miss a third straight game as the university and the NCAA work to resolve compliance issues. Paige hit four 3s against Oakland and scored a career-high 23 against Holy Cross, but the rest of the team is a combined 1 for 8 from behind the arc.

“We’re not a team filled with shot creators – guys who you can just get the ball on the wing and say get us a basket,” Paige said. “So it’s important that we set a lot of screens and we use screens, change sides of the court, give the defense a chance to make a mistake, because that’s how you get good shots. One pass and a long jump shot (is) easy for the other team.”

NOTES — Both UNC and Williams have never faced Belmont before. … The Bruins (2-1) scored 63 second-half points in a 96-95 home win over Indiana State on Thursday. … This is the 400th game for UNC at the Smith Center, where the Tar Heels are 340-59. If today’s attendance reaches 12,978, the team’s all-time attendance at the Smith Center would surpass 8,000,000.