The Braves struck quickly with a 10-2 spurt to open the game and kept their composure following a 14-6 UNC run that knotted the game at 16-16. Division II Preseason All-American Shahmel Brackett (16 points) and Marcus Heath (10 pts) combined for 16 of UNC Pembroke’s first 26 points as head coach Ben Miller’s squad held a 26-18 advantage with 8:52 remaining before halftime.
North Carolina endured a five-minute, 21-second field goal drought late in the first half until Roy Williams inserted his blue team down three points with 2:40 remaining. P.J. Hairston and his fellow freshmen ignited the nation’s top-ranked team with a 14-0 spurt to close the opening stanza with a 43-32 margin.
The lead would eventually grow to 100-53 on freshman Jackson Simmons’s two-point field goal with 1:50 left in regulation.
Tyler Zeller led North Carolina with 18 points and 11 rebounds, Hairston added 17 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point territory and Harrison Barnes and Dexter Strickland each contributed 13 points and four rebounds. Reggie Bullock totaled 10 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes off the bench.
UNC shot 45.5 percent (30-of-66) from the floor, including a 36.8 percent mark (7-of-19) from long range. UNC-Pembroke was held to 33.3 percent shooting (24-of-72). The Tar Heels forced 21 turnovers while committing 15 of their own, four of which occurred before the first media timeout.
INSIDE THE GAME
Blue Team Ready to Roll
There will undoubtedly come a time this season when the UNC starting five lacks the intensity and focus needed to control a game and put away its opponent. Those lapses are inevitable over the course of a long five-month schedule.
It’s those times that UNC’s reserves – long known as the Blue Team – are called upon to provide a spark and re-energize their teammates. The blue team proved on Friday that it’s ready for duty a full two weeks before the season opener against Michigan State.
With North Carolina training 32-29 with 2:40 remaining in the first half, head coach Roy Williams inserted Stilman White, Desmond Hubert and Simmons alongside Hairston and Bullock and the move worked to perfection.
“I put in four of the freshmen and Reggie and they gave us a great lift,” Williams said.
Hairston ignited a 14-0 run to close the half with a 3-pointer and the quartet applied defensive pressure to force three turnovers as Jackson, White and Bullock all scored in transition.
While North Carolina’s starting five is clearly set, its subbing patterns have been a topic of discussion throughout the offseason. Friday’s exhibition provided a glimpse into what will surely be an evolving rotation as the season goes along.
Bullock and Justin Watts were the first subs for Strickland and John Henson (7 pts, 8 rebs, 5 blks), respectively, at the initial media timeout. James Michael McAdoo replaced Zeller two minutes later, and Hairston entered the game with 13:19 remaining for Barnes, prompting Bullock to slide over to the three spot. Strickland returned at the 12:14 mark to replace Marshall at the point.
That rotation pattern likely provides a good outline for what Tar Heel fans can expect this season, but Williams toyed around with a variety of lineups to find out which groupings mesh well.
Here’s a sampling of those lineups, listed in order from positions 1-5:
- Marshall, Bullock, Barnes, Watts, McAdoo
- Strickland, Hairston, Bullock, Watts, McAdoo
- Strickland, Bullock, Barnes, Watts, McAdoo
- Marshall, Hairston, Watts, Henson, Zeller
“The starters know their role and I think that’s going to take us a long way,” Strickland said. “The freshmen, they don’t really know their role yet, but that’s all in the experience that we’ll have and [in] practice. When everybody knows their role and we go out there, we’re going to play well. If everybody understands what they have to do, then we shouldn’t have any trouble.”
Bright Spots on the Perimeter
When junior guard Leslie McDonald suffered a torn ACL back in July, the perimeter shooting responsibility immediately shifted to Bullock and Hairston at the two-guard to complement Barnes. An exhibition game pales in comparison to the pressure of a regular season contest, but the duo was still able to display its potential, combining for 27 points and knocking down 6-of-11 3-pointers.
“P.J. can really shoot the ball [and] Reggie can shoot the ball, but the one thing they’re doing better is both of those guys are doing a nicer job on the defensive end of the floor, they really are,” Williams said. “But we miss having Leslie, there’s no question, because he was the best shooter and has proven that he can do it in prime time. But the fact of the matter is we don’t have him, so those guys do have to step up.”
Secret Scrimmage Up Next
The NCAA allows its basketball programs to either play two preseason exhibitions or pair an exhibition with a closed-door “secret” scrimmage that’s not allowed to be open or promoted to the public. UNC has opted for the latter in recent years, scrimmaging Vanderbilt in '08 and ’09 before hosting UNC-Greensboro last November.
This year’s scrimmage will occur on Sunday against Georgetown.
Strickland told reporters that the glorified practice would be scripted, such as UNC playing defense on five consecutive possessions before switching to offense for an equal amount of reps. The importance of the scrimmage is that North Carolina will get in work against a high-major opponent before the season opener against Michigan State in the Carrier Classic.
“It prepares us for that game in San Diego,” Strickland said. “We can’t just take the game lightly because it’s an exhibition game or a scrimmage. We’ve got to go out there and just try to give it our all and try to get the ‘W’.”