Tokoto lone bright spot in UNC’s loss

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — As the North Carolina men’s basketball team watched Alabama-Birmingham pull away in the first half of UNC’s 63-59 loss Sunday, the Tar Heels desperately searched for someone to electrify their offense.

Sophomore Marcus Paige had just two points in the first half, junior James Michael McAdoo added only two more. The spark came from an unlikely source — J.P. Tokoto.

The sophomore wing scored a team-high 16 points in the loss, shooting 7-for-11 from the field, and outscoring his season average of 8.2 by halftime.

None of Tokoto’s baskets were more emphatic than his alley-oop dunk from freshman guard Nate Britt in the second half.

With UNC trailing by 14, Paige stole the ball from UAB guard Chad Frazier, and quickly dished it off to Britt. UNC then executed a two-on-one fast break with Britt and Tokoto, that ended with a slow lob from Britt that Tokoto slammed home with the ease UNC fans are accustomed to seeing from him.

But his game wasn’t all flashy dunks. Tokoto found several of his points on mid-range jump shots, and even knocked down UNC’s only 3-point shot of the night, showing a piece of his game that has been inconsistent early in his career.

And while knocking shots down from mid-range hasn’t been his strong suit, Tokoto said he wasn’t surprised at all with his success away from the hoop against UAB.

“Mindset was, if it was open, take it. If it’s a good shot, take it,” he said. “That’s the work from the summer coming into play, knocking those down.

“It’s not a surprise that I hit a shot, not at all.”

After the enthusiastic alley-oop, UNC began to slowly cut into the deficit, and with 6:41 left in the game, Tokoto went back to what he does best. He got to the basket, bringing UNC within three on a runner from point-blank range.

Paige said that Tokoto’s play provided a lift when the team was in need of consistent offense.

“He did a great job shooting shots that he’s comfortable making,” Paige said, “It was good to see him take advantage of that opportunity.”

But coach Roy Williams was quick to say that he found no perfect games on the court tonight, and pointed out that Tokoto needs to get more offensive rebounds.

“I think he’s potentially one of the greatest offensive rebounders I’ve ever coached,” Williams said, “We’ve got to get him more.”

Tokoto recognized that he needs to be more of an offensive rebounder for this team to be successful.

“There was a lot of boards that I probably should have had, and probably could have gotten,” Tokoto said, “But instead of going to the boards I just kind of watched, and I mean, that’s what coach doesn’t want, it’s kind of the opposite.”

Williams said the difference in Tokoto Sunday night was simple.

“Taking the ball to the basket more,” he said. “Seven of 11, there’s no question I’ll take that.”

And with the Tar Heels still looking for more consistent scorers, UNC can stop scanning off the court for last season’s leading scorer, and instead look to the sophomore who’s still on it.

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