Young Tar Heels improve in ETSU rout

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During the first half of North Carolina’s 78-55 win against East Tennessee State on Saturday, P.J. Hairston eagerly pointed out the lopsided score to an unaware Leslie McDonald.

At that moment, the Tar Heels (7-2) were in the process of completing a 19-0 run that left the Pirates (2-5) scoreless for more than eight minutes. Still, McDonald could hardly believe what he saw when he looked at the scoreboard right above him.

“If we’re constantly coming at them defensively, we really don’t look at the score,” McDonald said through a proud grin. “It was amazing seeing that four points to 29. It brought back high school days.”

But, after holding ETSU to just 12 first-half points, the fewest points ever scored in a single half at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels didn’t shine nearly as bright after the break

All but one of UNC’s 31 field goals Saturday was an assisted basket. Williams liked seeing his team work together so consistently. What he didn’t like as much, though, was UNC’s lack of intensity in the second half compared to the first.

“When we move the ball, we’re very successful. When we share the ball, we’re very successful,” coach Roy Williams said. “Most of the time if you have 30 assists, you’re going to have 110, 120 points. But we didn’t do a very good job of all those other things.”

UNC scored just 36 points after intermission, and East Tennessee State scored more in the first six and a half minutes of the second half than it had in the first. North Carolina shot 37 percent from the field in the second half compared to 49 percent in the first.

Through the second-half sloppiness, Bullock saw more than just a glimmer of hope. After ETSU, which ended the first half with more turnovers (13) than points, fell behind early, Williams began to spread out the playing time. Eleven Tar Heels ended the game with at least 10 minutes on the court.

Watching his younger teammates have shining moments on the court wasn’t just a confidence booster for them, Bullock said. It also allows him to breathe a little easier in the future.

“It’s definitely good for me (to see that),” Bullock said. “The things that J.P. (Tokoto) did tonight, like running the floor and getting easy baskets, that’s one of the things I do. It’s great to see him doing it so I can get a breather while I’m sitting on the bench.”

UNC’s win Saturday didn’t end up being as much of a rout as it appeared like it would be when it led by 36 with 15 minutes to go.

“Sometimes when you look and see that you’re really destroying a team, you tend to slack off,” said McDonald, who ended with a team-high 14 points. “But for us being affiliated with Carolina, we don’t want to do that.”

Maybe North Carolina fell prey to that just a little bit against East Tennessee State — with commanding leads like it had, it’s human nature not to, McDonald conceded.

But the Tar Heels, with a few lessons in hand they will use as conference matchups near, slipped by anyway.

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