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Friday August 12th

Jalek Felton stars in limited minutes against Ohio State

<p>North Carolina guard Jalek Felton (5) goes behind the back on Western Carolina guard Matt Halvorsen (2) on Dec. 6 in the Smith Center.</p>
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North Carolina guard Jalek Felton (5) goes behind the back on Western Carolina guard Matt Halvorsen (2) on Dec. 6 in the Smith Center.

NEW ORLEANS – Talent and raw ability has never been the question with Jalek Felton, the first-year backup point guard on the No. 5 North Carolina men’s basketball team.

Whether or not he can be consistent with his play and learn to do what it takes to be a good team player at the college level has been, rather.

In that regard, Felton’s play in UNC’s 86-72 win against Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic coupled with his recent effort in practice could be seen as a step in the right direction. 

Against the Buckeyes, Felton, in just 12 minutes of action, went for 12 points, all of which came from the 3-point line, and dished out five assists.

But what Felton did in practice leading up to Saturday’s game was what impressed his head coach the most.

“He dove on the floor yesterday in practice for a loose ball for the first time in his life,” Roy Williams said of Felton. “He’s 18 years old – first time he’s ever dove on the floor, and he’s hurting. But he sucked it up and played today.”

And played well, at that. 

Felton didn’t get off on the right foot against Ohio State, but quickly made amends. Soon after spelling Joel Berry II for the first time of the game, he made a careless pass that resulted in a turnover and an easy bucket for the Buckeyes.

Turnovers were what limited Felton to just five minutes of action in UNC’s loss to the Wofford Terriers on Wednesday, and it looked like they could be a problem again against Ohio State. 

But after that initial mistake, Felton caught fire from the outside. He scored nine consecutive points for UNC in the first half, sinking three straight 3-pointers. The last of those three gave North Carolina a 26-23 lead. The Tar Heels never trailed after that point.

“My teammates were looking for me a lot, and I hit a few shots,” Felton said. “They kept looking, and I was looking for them also; they hit shots.”

Guard Jalek Felton (5) guards against a Northern Iowa player on Friday in the Smith Center.

Entering the season, the knock on Felton was that his outside shot needed improvement. But through 13 games, the 6-foot-3 guard has made 11 of 24 shots (45.8 percent) from 3-point range.

Felton said he hasn’t changed anything with his form since arriving at UNC, but did admit that he’s become more confident in his outside shot.

"Just getting reps up after practice and before practice,” Felton said to explain his improved shooting.

With Seventh Woods out for an extended period of time due to a stress fracture in his right foot, Felton’s importance to the Tar Heels has grown, and Saturday’s game was an example of that.

While Berry turned in another quality performance for UNC, the senior guard was able to rest on the bench for a stretch during final nine minutes of the first half. When he did so, UNC’s play didn’t suffer with Felton running the show, as his plus/minus rating of 16 was second to only Theo Pinson (19).

Felton did commit three turnovers, but his ability to score and find open teammates made up for that.

“A hundred years ago, Coach Smith said every turnover's either selfishness by trying to make a great play or carelessness,” Williams said. “And I think that two of his were careless, and one of them he was trying to force it through there and the guy wasn't open. But three turnovers, five assists, but yet a 4-5 from 3-point line – that's pretty doggone good.”

Up to this point, Felton’s first year as a Tar Heel has been a roller coaster ride of sorts. After being a non-factor against Wofford, Felton played up to his potential against the Buckeyes.

Whether or not that type of volatility remains is unknown, but Felton has learned to put past performances behind him and move on.

“I’ve been talking with (assistant) coach Hubert Davis a lot," Felton said, "and he’s just telling me, 'You can’t go in the past and worry about what’s happened in the past. You can only worry about what’s next.’"

His outing against Ohio State might be one for Felton to hold on to, though.

@brennan_doherty

sports@dailytarheel.com

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