Playing against friends is never easy. But for the North Carolina Tar Heels and Coach Matt Doherty, Curtis Hunter’s North Carolina A&T Aggies were just what the Heels needed.
Doherty and Hunter were teammates on the great Carolina team of 1982-83 and 1983-84 (Hunter redshirted that season) and going head to head from a coaching standpoint was not easy for the second year Tar Heel leader.
“After the game I said to him,” Doherty said, “’Sorry you caught us on a bad night. A month ago it could have been a different story.’ You don’t like to play against friends and win by a margin like that.”
The winning margin was huge for Carolina, especially when you consider the start of this campaign.
Check out these numbers from the win. 104-66. More amazing than that, 31 assists to only nine turnovers. Want more? Try 16 threes, one off the school record and two shy of the ACC record.
“Everybody’s been talking about how poorly a shooting team they are, but it was only a matter of time,” Aggie Coach Hunter said following the rout, “This is Carolina. They might not be the team everyone is used to because they don’t have the marquee player they can go to. But, it’s only a matter of time before it started happening.”
From the start, it looked tonight would not be the night for the Heels as they opened a familiar way. All hustle with little scoring to show for it.
Jason Capel started the scoring 58 seconds in and while the Heels were hustling and playing stifling defense, the baskets were not falling. Heading into the first official timeout, it was tied at six.
But then, the transformation happened and the Heels that lost to College of Charleston last Friday night became the Heels that routed St. Joseph’s 24 hours later.
A three from Will Johnson and two more from Brian Morrison helped the Heels run off 11 straight points in the next 2:03 and from there, the Heels didn’t look back.
Following a Brian Bersticker lay up to put the Heels on top 27-12, Coach Doherty did the unexpected and subbed in walk-on Joe Everett. 20 seconds later, Everett go in on the action by drawing a charge and everyone realized tonight’s game would be a continuation of the breakout performance in Charlotte last Saturday.
Bruce Jenkins kept the Aggies within a long distance call by scoring 13 points in the first half. Despite his effort, the Heels still managed to lead by 21 with the last points coming on a circus reverse layup by Capel as the shot clock and horn sounded.
At the half, it was 52-31 Carolina, with the Heels hitting eight threes on 16 attempts.
“At halftime, we had five turnovers and I told the team we wanted to try and keep it under ten (turnovers),” Doherty said postgame.
The Heels, after averaging 18 plus turnovers on the season, answered Doherty’s challenge and finished with nine on the game and poured on point after point on the undersized and worn out N.C. A&T players, with sprinkles of excitement not seen often or even ever from the 2001-02 Tar Heels.
Jackie Manuel, despite three of eight shooting on the night, had the highlight of the game with a wrap around behind the back pass to Jawad Williams who dished to Capel for the crowd pleasing layup and a 20 point Carolina lead.
“You look at the play of Jackie Manuel today – his confidence level is like night and day,” Coach Doherty said of the freshman’s play.
At the first official timeout of the half, it was 60-40 Carolina. Over the next 4:06, the Heels ran off on a 20-6 run and what was hoped for by many a Tar Heel fan, happened.
The Heels were having fun and back to playing Carolina basketball. And for the 15,150 fans in attendance, it was a pleasant sight to see.
“(We are) playing loose like we don’t care,” Capel said when asked about the scoring outburst of the last two games, “We are not worried about the outside forces. We are not worried about anything. We are having fun.”
An 80-46 lead swelled to its largest margin of 42 on a Morrison three with 3:41 left. That made it 100-58 Tar Heels, the first time the Heels hit the century mark since December 4, 1999 against UNLV (102).
At that point, Doherty gave all the regulars except Will Johnson the rest of the evening off as Jonathan Holmes, Everett, Damien Price, Phillip McLamb and aformentioned Johnson finished off the Aggies over the last 3:33.
The winning total of 104 was the highest score by the Heels since February 8, 1998 at Georgia Tech when the Heels rode Shammond Williams’ 42 points to the 107-100 overtime win.
The Heels now head to Sunday’s matchup against Texas A&M and a chance to move to .500 on the season going into ACC action. The past two games certainly help the young team’s confidence, but the man at the top knows that there is a long way to go to meet the usual Tar Heel level.
“Our confidence is certainly higher,” Doherty said after the win, “I can’t say we’ve arrived—we still have work to do, but we’re making good progress.”
Jawad Williams (20) and Adam Boone (13) hit career highs in scoring in the win. Williams continued to blossom into the player many expect he would be the minute he stepped foot on the Carolina campus.
“I am learning to play within the system," Williams said of his play, "I am learning how to get my teammates involved and let the game come to me first instead of me going out and forcing things. I am just relaxing now.”
Eight different Tar Heels hit three pointers with Morrison leading the way with four and Boone three.
Brian Morrison had zero turnovers and five assists in 23 minutes of action.
"He played a helluva game," said teammate Melvin Scott of Morrison's performance, "When he doesn't turn the ball over, he's capable of being one of the best players on this team and in the league. When he's not turning the ball over and he's stroking that thing, he's real effective."
Capel’s 26 points was one off his career high of 27 (Maryland last season).
Brian Bersticker’s nine rebounds was a career high.
The five Tar Heels in double figures (Capel-26, Williams-20, Morrison-13, Boone-13 and Bersticker-11) was the second straight game the Heels have accomplished the feat.
Kris Lang is doubtful for Sunday's matchup against Texas A&M but should be ready for Wake Forest on January 5, 2002.
Orlando Melendez dressed but did not play in tonight's game. He is still hampered by a groin injury but could have played in an emergency according to Coach Doherty.