Wing depth was always going to be an issue for this North Carolina squad, even with Hairston, due to Reggie Bullock’s early entry into the NBA Draft in June. Without Hairston, who sat out due to an ongoing compliance issue with the University and NCAA, Tokoto set career highs in minutes (30), points (13), assists (5) and tied his career high with four steals.
The sophomore wing connected of 5-of-11 field goal attempts, including making his second career 3-pointer late in the first half to give UNC a 58-21 advantage at the break.
“He was really good in the first half,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “He’s played really well. The one thing he didn’t show as much tonight is that he’s been a great rebounder for us and he only had two offensive rebounds. He’s been a great rebounder, a great defensive player.
“His shot is better. We want him to understand that it’s a work in progress; it’s going to get better and better and better.”
Tokoto indicated that assistant coach Hubert Davis was the primary agent involved with adjusting his shot during the offseason.
“My elbow was out, so it was getting my elbow back in – that helped a lot,” Tokoto said. “And just focusing on the rotation of the ball and getting it up there. Using my legs and not so much my arm.”
That aspect of his game has made the most strides since last season, according to Tokoto. He said the new motion feels natural and that he’s not hesitant in the least.
Former Tar Heel Shammond Williams has also helped with improving ball handling and off the dribble skills.
While his offensive skill set received the most emphasis during the season, Tokoto’s immense athleticism provides for glimpses of defensive prowess, which he displayed in guarding Oakland’s Travis Bader, who led the nation in made 3-pointers last season.
The senior guard scored 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting, but was limited to five points on 1-of-8 shooting in the opening half.
“I was not letting him get off screens and not letting him catch it easy,” Tokoto said. “Just making it hard for him. I think in the second half I kind of let off and cramps started to get me in my calves, so chasing him off the screens was difficult for me.”
Without Hairston in the lineup, Tokoto will serve as UNC’s lone true wing. James Michael McAdoo slid down to the 3-spot for stretches of time to give Tokoto a breather or to play a short stint at the two.
The enormity of the current situation hasn’t fazed the Wisconsin product.
“I don’t really look at it as pressure; it’s opportunity,” Tokoto said. “And it’s a great opportunity, too, just to get out there more and help the team out with my energy and what I bring to the table. I don’t really look at it as pressure because I feel like once you start to look at it as pressure, it starts messing with your head and that was one of my main problems last year.”