“In the end it’s ‘W’ and it’s Christmas time so I’m not going to be scrooge,” Roy Williams said following a hot and cold performance by the his now 9-2 Heels, “We were really good for about the last four minutes of the first half and the first four or five minutes of the second half and then we went brain dead for a while.”
Carolina led 13-4 at the first media timeout as ASU struggled with the Tar Heel defense, but a 34-21 Carolina lead with 6:59 left in the half shrank to 35-30 in just three minutes as Carter hit two of the three ASU three-pointers to cut the lead to five.
Williams implored his Heels to get back to playing inside-out basketball at the under four media time out and his players obliged. The five point lead swelled to 48-32 at the break.
“Nothing prepares you for what you are going to see out there,” said ASU coach Jason Capel. “We tried to simulate it as much as possible.”
All told, Carolina’s 40-16 run opened the game’s largest margin at 75-46. Capel’s team refused to fold and kept the game close enough in the last ten minutes to keep Carolina’s regulars on the court. App. State cut the lead to 12, 92-80, with 1:40 left but could not get any closer.
“Our biggest lead was 29, then all of a sudden it was 15 or something like that,” Williams said, “That happened in a stretch where Kendall (Marshall) pushes off, (then) throws the pass around his back and tries to throw it between 20,892 people. And we took bad shots. We might look at that five minutes on tape but it’s a “W” and I’m proud of our guys.”
Finding a Flow
Eleven games into the season and after playing its first game in a week, Carolina heads now to the second of three games in just five days. A Saturday-Monday-Wednesday stretch in February would be brutal for most teams, but the disjointed schedule thus far has the Heels looking forward to getting in a groove before the Christmas break.
“Nothing like playing games, that’s what we love to do the most,” Henson said when asked about the exam break. “Finals, studying, practice, folks late for practice because of that. It’s been a rough week but we are back on schedule.”
While the final outcome was never in doubt, the Heels played poorly in stretches in both halves, looking like a team struggling to fire on all cylinders for a full 40 minutes.
“I was thankful to have finals over so we could play basketball,” commented Zeller. “We are young so it’s not really a rust thing. Finals are tough but you are here to play basketball so you have to be able to do that.”
Ground and Pound
No, not the New York Jets mantra, but the formula the Heels used to take apart App. State while knocking the rust of the past week off. Carolina took only two shots outside of the paint before Dexter Strickland’s 18-foot jumper almost ten minutes into the game found the nets.
Before that make, going inside repeatedly forced App State’s center, Brian Okum, into foul trouble and his replacement, Isaac Butts, picked up two fouls as well. Zeller’s 20 first-half points set the tone and his 31-point, ten-rebound performance for the night was certainly the game’s best.
“Personally (tonight’s performance) is probably near the top, but we have a lot to do as a team,” UNC's senior center said following the win. “Tonight as a team we have to get better. We had times we were very good but at times we played poorly. We need to get in the rhythm and play for 40 minutes.”
Getting the ball inside has always been the Carolina formula, and while the outside shooting has been poor in spots, going inside can cure a lot of ills.
“We are never going to get away from our game plan of working inside out,” Marshall said of the performance. “When it’s working, we are going to keep doing it. We didn’t shoot as many threes today and the ones we did shoot didn’t go in, but our bigs stepped up for us.”
Reggie Bullock made only two three pointers on the night and pulled down six rebounds to go along with his ten points. But it was his fellow shooter on the wing that took his game in a different direction that could make a big difference in the long run. P.J. Hairston took and missed only two shots from the field, but turned on a different style of play that hasn’t been seen much this season.
“I didn’t expect anything to be easy or given to me - I wanted to come here and do my best,” Hairston said following his ‘different’ game. “I’m still getting used to the big difference. I still make bad decisions like I did on the court in high school but I’m breaking those habits.
“I haven’t been shooting the ball great lately so I have been trying to help the team out and changing my game up. Getting to the free throw line and driving the basketball, being aggressive."
In the end, while 0-2 from the field, Hairston finished 10-12 from the line to match Bullock's scoring output.
Being aggressive will be a point of focus for this squad over the next four games as the Heels will soon turn the calendar to ACC play. Up next is Nicholls State on Monday, followed by the Texas Longhorns on Wednesday night.