The excitement in Carolina basketball was back with a vengeance Saturday in the Smith Center, as nary a blue seat back seemed visible even before tip-off. And although he never scored a single varsity point while he was a student, no alumnus has ever received such a resounding welcome home than Williams.
“It was some fun out there tonight and I think that was important,” Williams said. “The best way to have fun is to play your tail off. All the kids get excited when you say you’re going to run, but it’s a lot of hard work.”
Rashad McCants may have had the most fun of all. He led five Tar Heels i n double figures with 18 points and also recorded eight assists, four steals and blocked two shots against just four turnovers.
“I feel very comfortable with this style of play,” McCants said. “That’s the way everybody likes to play, getting out there and making the defense work. To me it was just business – making them work hard and playing as hard as I could.”
Sean May added 17 points to go with seven rebounds.
“I’ve been waiting for this day since Dec. 27 of last year,” May said. “It just feels great to be in a game atmosphere, and the fans were into it the entire game.”
After taking a commanding 40-23 lead into the locker room at halftime, Carolina (1-0) utilized a 23-3 run midway through the second half to more than double the score on the Mondarchs (0-1) at that point. UNC’s final points of the stretch came by way of the game’s finest highlight, a demonstrative alley-oop dunk by Jawad Williams off a perfect pass from Raymond Felton that made the score 66-31 with 10:34 Remaining in the game.
So who needs depth when you can rotate in six regulars and three reserves and still throttle the opposition?
“We can always get better, but we played the way we wanted to defensively and offensively we were making scoring runs and making everything tough for them,” McCants said. “Everybody else stepped their game up and it gave me an opportunity to step my game up and get the ball to the people that were open.”
Felton, who finished with nine points in just 28 minutes, went to the floor and slightly injured his hip in the first half, however did return without any noticeable consequence.
“I feel fine and there is no pain,” he said.
From both the one and two-guard spots, Melvin Scott chipped in 15 points and dished out six assists, while turning the ball over just once.
In a stark contrast from last year, the Tar Heels shot 61.7 percent from the floor, though they were just 1-of-7 from 3-point range.
“If you look at their shooting, it shows their players are really taking to heart some of the things Coach Williams is trying to teach them,” ODU coach Blaine Taylor said.
Williams expressed displeasure with the Tar Heels’ effort on the boards, which yielded 15 offensive rebounds.
“We didn’t do a good job of boxing out tonight,” he said. “We had three different occasions where guys were taking off and heading to the other end. You play defense to the very end by boxing out and rebounding.”
Gone are the days of early season stumbles against mid-major opponents. The Tar Heels (1-0) performed like a team hungry to erase the memories of back-to-back seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
It appears unlikely that teams such as Davidson or Hampton will ever leave Chapel Hill victorious again with the refreshing winning attitude that Williams has brought to town. The Tar Heels are now 82-11 in season openers and 86-7 in home openers.
“Everything went according to script,” Taylor said. “They are good, Coach Williams is good. There was a great crowd and great environment.”
Speaking of Davidson, the Tar Heels will return to action Monday against the Wildcats in the Charlotte Coliseum.