The Red Flash (2-11) grabbed an early 5-2 lead, but the vast talent gap soon displayed itself as North Carolina (10-4) combined an 18-6 run with a 9-0 spurt in the waning minutes of the first half to take a 52-33 lead into the locker room.
The Tar Heels ended any thought of a miraculous comeback with a 24-5 run early in the second half and eventually eclipsed the century mark with a Dexter Strickland free throw with 1:29 left to play.
Eight different Tar Heels scored in double figures, accounting for the most since UNC placed nine players in double figures in a 129-45 victory over Manhattan on Dec. 27, 1985.
Strickland and John Henson (six rebounds, six blocks) led North Carolina with 13 points apiece. Leslie McDonald (12 points on 4-of-6 3-pointers), Reggie Bullock (12), Tyler Zeller (11), Harrison Barnes (10), Larry Drew (10) and Justin Knox (10) also reached double digits for the Tar Heels.
Will Felder paced the Red Flash with 18 points on 8-of-20 shooting and seven rebounds, while Umar Shannon added 13 points.
North Carolina shot a season-best 59.1 percent (39-of-66) from the floor, while holding St. Francis to 32.8 percent shooting (22-of-67, 1-of-15 on 3-pointers). The Tar Heels forced 16 turnovers and outrebounded the Red Flash, 44-32.
INSIDE THE GAME
A Reminder to Utilize Your Height Advantage
North Carolina’s tactical approach seemed to be obvious around the center circle prior to tip-off on Sunday. The Tar Heels’ frontline stood 6-foot-8, 6-foot-10 and 7-foot-even, compared with the Red Flash’s diminutive measurements of 6-foot-4, 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7.
UNC capitalized on that differential with a pair of Zeller baskets in the opening 3:21, but the Tar Heels went away from the pound-it-inside mentality after a handful of 3-pointers dropped. Seven of North Carolina’s first 19 field goal attempts came from behind the arc, allowing for some long rebounds, corresponding transition opportunities and rest for St. Francis’s post players.
That development helps to explain why the Red Flash were only down nine points with 7:38 remaining before halftime, despite the Tar Heels converting nearly two-thirds of their field goal attempts.
After Zeller’s first two baskets, UNC held a mere 20-18 point advantage in the paint despite an equal amount of offensive rebounds (4) in the first half.
Those numbers dramatically changed after halftime, however, as UNC outscored St. Francis 30-12 in the paint and attempted only 10 3-pointers in its final 47 shots.
“We didn’t come out the way we wanted,” head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “The [thing] I put up on the board was 'get the ball into the inside by dribble or pass' and the first four possessions, we had three outside shots. So we’ve got to get a little better focus. But those guys settled down, and we got the ball inside.”
Shift at the Point
Sunday marked the first contest this season that Kendall Marshall played more minutes than Larry Drew at the point, building interest in an otherwise ho-hum basketball game.
But Williams explained the difference away as a matter of Drew’s heightened intensity on the defensive end of the floor.
“Larry was sensational defensively and had to give two tired signals,” Williams said. “We don’t usually get that, and so that was the reason that Kendall’s minutes were up.”
The statistics suggest a different explanation.
In the four-game period beginning with Illinois and ending with Long Beach State, Drew posted a 23:7 assist-to-turnover ratio while averaging 26.75 minutes per contest. Marshall countered with a 9:9 A/T mark in 12.5 minutes per game.
In the four games since then, Marshall has seen his minutes increase to 17.75 per contest and the freshman has responded with a strong 25:5 A/T ratio. Conversely, Drew’s minutes have dropped to 21.0 per game and the junior has delivered a 16:10 A/T mark during the same timeframe.
Strong Bench Play
In addition to eight players scoring in double figures, nine Tar Heels played at least 17 minutes and a tenth logged 13 minutes on Sunday. With no starters seeing more than 23 minutes of action, UNC had to rely on its bench to score, and score they did, posting 46 points against the starters’ 57.
While McDonald and Knox have received the bulk of the media attention for their improved play in recent weeks, Bullock and Watts have capitalized on their opportunities and have benefited from playing alongside Marshall.
“We’re basically coming off the bench bringing energy, adding on to the things that aren’t going on when we’re not out there,” Bullock said. “But we’re gelling as a team as we’re out there moving the ball, just showing the first squad it’s easy to move the ball and get scores. We’re just playing as a team out there, and it’s going well.”
Playing the Percentages
St. Francis’s statistical percentages did not tell a heartwarming story entering the weekend, and the Tar Heels did their part in preventing any outliers from sneaking into the box score.
The Red Flash stood 291st nationally in field goal percentage defense (46.7) and 280th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (38.8) prior to Sunday. North Carolina likely pushed those rankings closer to the 300 threshold with a 59.1 field goal percentage and a 47.1 3-point field goal percentage.
The Red Flash appeared set to buck their offensive woes after knocking down eight of their first 15 shots, but reality set in and they missed 38 of their 52 final field goal attempts in posting a 25.7 percentage from the floor in the second half.
St. Francis entered the game shooting 40.4 percent overall (278th nationally) and 29.8 percent from 3-point territory (268th).