The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday February 6th

UNC Exudes Confidence In Season-Opening Win

On the first day of practice, former North Carolina men's basketball player Jason Capel returned to Chapel Hill to talk to the Tar Heels.

His message? Bring back the tradition.

"That struck home with me," said freshman Sean May. "I felt that."

Apparently so did May's teammates. Monday night, the Tar Heels breathed life into a new chapter of UNC hoops lore and gave another generation of fans hope for an exciting, and maybe successful, season.

Led by freshman wingman Rashad McCants' 28 points -- the most points ever scored in a UNC debut -- the Tar Heels trounced Penn State 85-55 before 16,282 at the Smith Center.

UNC (1-0) advanced to the second round of the Preseason NIT with the win. The Tar Heels will host Rutgers, a 60-36 winner against Columbia, at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

"I couldn't envision us up by 20 or 30, but I could envision us getting a win," said freshman point guard Raymond Felton.

It was apparent from the start that these were not the Tar Heels from Capel's final year at UNC.

Instead, UNC jumped on an experienced but overmatched PSU team from the start and never looked back.

McCants, a late addition to the starting lineup, led the Tar Heels out of the gates, scoring 10 points in the first 3:08.

"Rashad is Rashad," Felton said. "He drives with strength, he scores, (and) he can shoot the 3-point shot."

The Tar Heels jumped to a 24-6 lead, taking advantage of poor Nittany Lion shooting and an energy usually reserved for midseason conference matchup.

By the end of the first half, North Carolina had raced to a 54-29 cushion and had its share of highlight-reel plays.

There were the dunks, like McCants' fast-break slam that counted as his first two collegiate points.

There were also the defensive stops, which were best demonstrated in the box score. Penn State (0-1) finished the half 11 of 38 from the field, including just 2 of 11 from behind the 3-point arc.

Starters Sharif Chambliss, Jan Jagla and Jamaal Tate combined to make six of 37 shots in the game for the Nittany Lions, who shot 29.6 percent overall.

"I think we did a good job of shutting out some passes, keeping them from running their offense," said UNC coach Matt Doherty.

There were also the surprises. Sure, Felton dropped 10 assists -- also a first-game record -- and May grabbed 10 rebounds to go with his 17 points. But they were expected to put up big stats.

Jackie Manuel, however, was not. Regardless, the sophomore guard took advantage of his spot in the starting lineup, scoring 16 points in 27 minutes.

"I just took what the defense gave me," Manuel said.

He best exemplified UNC's early energy as his frequent and confident forays into the lane paced the offense.

But the Tar Heels did struggle in an 18-3 PSU run midway through the second half. Point guard Brandon Watkins scored 10 of his 24 points in that stretch, a period during which UNC tried to control the game in the halfcourt.

"I probably overcoached there and put the brakes on them," Doherty said.

After an official timeout with 5:49 to go, though, UNC outscored the Nittany Lions 14-2 to send the crowd home with the same good vibe it had at the start.

The tradition isn't restored yet. An early precedent, though, has been set.

"This is not a rebuilding season," McCants said. "We're sustaining a legendary program."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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