North Carolina may have found an answer to the wing issues that have plagued the Heels all season.
Much has been said about Carolina’s lack of depth on the wing. Tokoto was it, and while Paige’s moved off the ball helped provide some lineup flexibility, Roy Williams was forced to play James Michael McAdoo at the three spot if foul trouble or poor play came from the outside. Leslie McDonald’s return eases the crisis, but without a proven scorer sans Paige, the door has been open for Tokoto to take control and fill the void.
“My role has been the same: attack the boards and be an offensive threat when we need it,” Tokoto said. “Be a defensive stopper for coach and the team. Whatever we need.
“My goal is to come out and be aggressive, crash the boards and help my teammates out. Shot were there tonight, and I took them just like any other game. Tonight they fell.”
With Paige struggling mightily against a defense completely geared toward him and Brice Johnson a non-factor (two points) despite starting in place of the injured Joel James, Tokoto posted career highs across the board – 22 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and four blocks – keeping Carolina in the game until help arrived late.
He even had the best free throw shooting game of his young career, hitting 5-of-6 attempts.
“He was huge for us today,” McAdoo said about Tokoto’s presence, “Offensive and defensive boards, keeping the ball alive. And (he was) in the passing lanes. He was making their guards uncomfortable and that was huge. I think with Marcus and Brice struggling….with that happening, it was huge.”
It was on the defensive end of the floor that Carolina would eventually wake up and force overtime. With Tokoto at the front of the attack, full court pressure took Davidson out of its comfort zone and quickly took a toll on the Wildcats.
“It was either a five or six point (game) when we went to it the first time,” Roy Williams said of the change, “Had to try something.”
“I think our press is stronger than last year with guys like me and Nate (Britt) that like to get our hands on the ball,” Tokoto said. “When coach put us in the press, our mentality was ‘let’s get a hand on the ball’ and we got it three straight times. One call was questionable but the other two times we got a steal and put it in the basket to force overtime. We know what we can do. It’s not a surprise to us.”
For Tokoto personally, his career night wasn’t a surprise either.
“I put the work in this summer on my shot and getting stronger and faster,” said the sophomore, “The steals, that’s not a big surprise to me because I did the same thing in high school. Rebounding, not a big surprise cause I’ve done that. Scoring? Same thing. It’s not really new to me, but bringing it to the team, yeah, that’s new.”
On the strength of that press Paige’s eruption and Tokoto’s career day, Carolina got a win against a team desperate for a win; a win against the type of team that, for whatever reason this season, has given the Heels fits; a win much needed heading into the holiday break after a difficult week for the program. And, in the process, the Heels may have found the wing solution.