UNC wins despite second-half struggles

The Tar Heels struggled on the offensive glass in the 93-87 win

The North Carolina men’s basketball team started its game Saturday with a slam dunk out of the possession from the opening tip-off.

But the momentum that usually comes with that type of a booming beginning dwindled in the second half.

The Tar Heels (8-2) maintained the lead through the entire game to beat East Carolina (6-2) 93-87, but the 61 points that North Carolina allowed in the second half reflected the lack of practice and preparation the team had for the game.

“I hope we did a good job with exams this week,” coach Roy Williams said. “Yesterday afternoon we even had a player leave practice early to finish something on a final exam, so it was a tough week.

“It looked like we hadn’t practiced all week, and we didn’t do a lot of practicing. But still it’s a W.”

Williams recognized the student status of his players, but what was most concerning to him in the afternoon victory was the lack of offensive rebounding from his big men.

“I’ve never had a game where a post player never got an offensive rebound the whole game,” Williams said. “So I got frustrated and I went really small. We’ve gone small, keeping one post player in there. Today, at one time I had J.P. (Tokoto) and Reggie (Bullock) as the four, five.

“It’s an easy deal: anticipate your teammate’s shot. Anticipate your teammate’s shot and go to the board.”

UNC’s lineup versatility was exposed by poor rebounding from the post players, but having the option and talent to go small will be advantageous because of the energy that comes with the change in size.

“Personally I like when we go small, I just feel like we can be quick on our feet getting out of transition,” Bullock said. “The most challenging thing is us gang rebounding because we’re so small, but I think that we could throw a lot of traps out at teams getting the ball out on transition.”

Against East Carolina, the difficulty that the North Carolina big men had in rebounding was countered by forwards Bullock and James Michael McAdoo, who each had seven rebounds, and guard P.J. Hairston, who had six.

But the inability to follow a teammate’s shot is something that Hairston recognizes as unusual to this season so far.

“It’s something that didn’t click today. Usually you see (McAdoo) with about 10 rebounds. Brice (Johnson) usually has about eight rebounds,” Hairston said. “East Carolina focused more on boxing out the bigs and left the guards open to get to the backboards.”

Amidst the changes that North Carolina had to make against an ECU opponent led by former Tar Heel Jeff Lebo, UNC did manage to show how its players’ development in pre-conference play this season.

Dexter Strickland had 12 points and a career-high 10 assists in his first college double-double, and he hit free throws when they counted. He made three of four foul shots he took with 35 and 26 seconds left in the game.

Those points helped North Carolina secure its win, as they came in response to ECU’s Akeem Richmond hitting two three point shots to put East Carolina within six and then four points of a tie.

“Actually, I got up at six o’clock this morning and got to the gym early and shot some extra free throws,” Strickland said. “So I’m beginning to really not be worried about my (foul) shot. My shot’s going to fall. I work too hard for me to be worried about it not falling.

Shots fell for four other players who scored in double digits along with Strickland. McAdoo scored 19 points, including a career-high nine points from the free throw line, Hairston tied his season high for scoring with 18 points, Bullock had 14 points, and freshman JP Tokoto had a season-high 10 points.

But the points could not overshadow what the team lacked in hustle.

“We just didn’t have that energy that we needed to have on defense at the end, with (ECU) hitting those threes at the end,” Strickland said. “We just need to do better as a team.

“Tomorrow we’re going to look at that film and just learn from our mistakes and from what we did well.

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