The goal heading into 2003’s last game was to put to rest any doubt that crept in following Carolina’s ugly performance against UNC-Wilmington just two days ago. The Heels did just that, running away from Coastal from the opening tip and never looking back.
“It’s always important to come out strong. That’s the total focus with any team, come out and hit them in the mouth right away,” McCants said postgame, “Hit shots, play good defense – that’s what we wanted to do (and) that was our game plan, get them out of their comfort zone, pressure them, get them uncomfortable and we did that.”
Even with Jawad Williams and Sean May on the bench in street clothes, Carolina torched the Chanticleers from inside and out, jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the first 45 seconds of the game. A McCants three just seven seconds and a layup sandwiched a David Noel ally-oop dunk in that span and the 18,793 in attendance had plenty reason to stand and cheer. McCants clearly began the game on a mission, especially knowing May and Williams would not play.
“Offensively, I knew someone needed to pick up the slack,” said McCants, “That’s thirty plus points gone off our scoring and knew someone had to pick it up. I wanted to fill that slot and that’s what I did.”
Coastal’s E. J. Gallup hit the first of his four three pointers on the night to cut the Tar Heel lead to four and that would be as close as the Big South team would be for the night.
For the half, Carolina shot 62.5% from the floor and led 50-23. McCants and Noel led the way and combined for 27 points on 11 for 15 shooting.
Reyshawn Terry played as well as he has in his brief career during Carolina’s dominant first half, scoring seven points and kept up the pace in the second stanza to close the evening with 14 points, seven rebound and four steals.
“Reyshawn played great tonight,” Noel said when asked about the freshman’s performance, “He got rebounds, put backs and made some great moves in the post – things we’ve been working on all the time in practice. I think he’s getting more comfortable with the offense so he’s coming along like we thought he would.”
Terry saw 16 minutes of action and by having extended minutes on the court, found a comfort level not seen thus far this season.
“I definitely think if I am out there for an amount of time, I can find my rhythm,” said the Winston Salem product, “[I] just don’t worry about making mistakes. You are going to make mistakes but just don’t worry about it. Just play.”
While the Heels “just played” and easily handled business on the scoreboard, this game potentially enlightened the masses to the fact that there’s more depth on this squad than every prognosticator wants to believe. Terry’s performance aside, three players thus far hidden from the glare of the spotlight shone brightly – Byron Sanders with seven rebounds in 22 minutes of action; Jackie Manuel with nine points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals; and most impressive, and most important, David Noel back in last year’s form with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals, two blocks and no turnovers.
While Carolina will need all it can get from Terry, Sanders and Justin Bohlander beginning Saturday at Kentucky, it’s Noel that can take this team to another level with his calm demeanor and do-it-all skills on the court. While watching for the first month of the season and seeing increasing minutes in his first three games back, the sophomore appears ready to step up to that challenge.
“Just being back out there on the court for a long period of time, playing big minutes when your team needs you to, it felt pretty good.” Noel commented following the game, “We didn’t have our two leading scorers and guys stepped up and did what we needed to do to get a win.
“I think we did a great job of getting better tonight. Reyshawn Terry came along tonight and did his part in the offense. Rashad had a big game just like always. Other guys contributed. It was a team effort and a great win.”
More importantly for the team and fans of the Heels alike, Noel says he’s back healthy for the first time since last season.
“My thumb is all the way healed but I still have to play with a brace and that hinders me from doing some things I want to do,” Noel said, “But, other than that, I feel like I am totally back now.”
Certainly good news for a team heading to Kentucky’s Rupp Arena Saturday at high noon to battle the Wildcats.
Raymond Felton continued his stellar play (11 points, ten assists, one turnover) and thinks the Heels are getting better, but not good enough, yet.
“We are getting close but I think we have a lot of things to work on,” the sophomore point guard said, “I think we are a much better team than we are showing right now.”
The time to ‘show it’ arrives in a hurry as from here it gets no easier with Miami, Georgia Tech and Connecticut coming to Chapel Hill and an always difficult trip to College Park in the next 18 days. Carolina stands 8-1 to close the door on 2003. 2004 holds tough non-conference opponents and a wicked Atlantic Coast Conference slate.
May and Williams were not missed tonight, but will be necessary for the Heels heading into Kentucky. According to Coach Williams, decisions will not be made before Thursday, “It remains to be seen. If you ask me what I think--as long as you'll put the word 'think' in there--I think that Sean will play and it's 50/50 on Jawad. And I don't think that we'll know until Thursday afternoon.”