Williams threw a tremendous head-and-shoulders ball fake, then left the flat-footed Tchankeu in the dust to drive down the lane for an uncontested dunk to pull Carolina even.
Things didn’t get much better for Tchankeu either—just two minutes later the talented but bulky big man helped get the crowd of 14,457 involved and put his own team in a pickle by missing a dunk, then hanging on the rim in a vain effort to tap the ball back in, drawing a technical foul. Melvin Scott converted the free throws and the Tar Heels went on to compile a 26-2 run to put their Division II opponents away. Marvin Williams finished the first half with 14 points on 6-6 shooting, en route to an 18-point, 11-rebound night (team highs in both categories).
Williams started the game on the bench however, and Carolina’ starting five opened the game sluggishly, as if they were anxious to earn a 6 a.m. Saturday morning practice. Carolina failed to convert a field goal in the opening five minutes and racked up several unsightly turnovers to allow the visitors to take an early five-point lead. Playing without Rashad McCants (who sat this one out nursing a sore left shoulder), the Tar Heels looked distinctly out of sync in the early going. Sean May had two balls stripped by smaller defenders and also picked up two cheap fouls in the first five minutes, while several players attempted too difficult alley-oop passes that failed to convert.
“I really can’t tell you why we started sluggish,” said senior forward Jawad Williams, who overcame the slow start to post a respectable 15-point, 8-board night. “We got it together and played the game we’re supposed to.”
Indeed, once Carolina got going, Mt. Olive had extreme difficulty running any semblance of an offense and that Tar Heels got a bevy of fast break points; on the night Carolina scored 20 points off of turnovers compared to just two for the Trojans. Carolina also forced at least three backcourt violations and held the Trojans to just 28 percent shooting in the first half.
After establishing a 27-point halftime lead, Roy Williams followed an entirely different agenda in the second half, with the aim of giving his team some experience playing without the services of Raymond Felton. (Felton is suspended for the season opener next Friday against Santa Clara for unsanctioned participation in a summer league.)
“We tried to give Quentin, Wes [Miller], and Melvin [Scott] each a four-minute stretch in the first 12 minutes the second half. Q was the point the first four minutes, Melvin was the point the next four, and Wes the point the next four.” Williams said that while he is pleased with Thomas’s early development and is much more comfortable than he would have been a year ago with Felton out of the lineup, he had made no firm decisions yet about who will start at the point next Friday.
“I want [Quentin] to be more aggressive and I want him to value the basketball,” said Willams. “He threw that pass to Jawad down there when they had 17 players and three managers surrounding Jawad, and he still tried to throw the ball down there—we’ve got to make better decisions than that. Am I pleased? Yes. Am I satisfied? No. He better grow up a lot between now and next Friday.”
Perhaps worryingly, with Felton reduced to a cheerleading role Carolina’s offensive efficiency fell off dramatically in the second half, as the Tar Heels only outscored Mt. Olive 43-39 in the second stanza and committed an unsightly 23 turnovers. But there were positives as well, as Thomas recorded five assists and three steals in 14 minutes (against three turnovers) and Wes Miller chipped in with eight points and two assists (against two turnovers) in his 12 minutes.
“I felt liked I didn’t do awful but I didn’t do great,” said Miller. “I went in there and had a couple of turnovers I would like to have back. I thought their guards were pretty good, but the guards we play against are always going to be pretty good.”
North Carolina has five more days of preparation in Chapel Hill before flying out to the West Coast this Thursday, en route to the Maui Invitational in Hawaii. Judging from Friday’s performance, these remaining days of preseason practice are badly needed and could prove crucial in ensuring Carolina can overcome the absence of Felton and get the season off to a strong start.
Roy Williams said he is “hopeful” Rashad McCants will be available next weekend, pending results of an MRI conducted on his left shoulder (the same shoulder that was injured much of his freshman season). Results from that test should be known later this weekend, Williams added.
While David Noel showed off his hoops knowledge but observing that NBA star Steve Nash played his college ball at Santa Clara, senior guard Melvin Scott admitted to knowing relatively little about the Broncos. “I know they are out next opponent and they are very dangerous because it’s next the game and we have to prepare well,” offered Scott. “Tomorrow at practice we’ll get a good scouting report on those guys. Once tomorrow comes we’ll hear a lot about Santa Clara.”