When the players arrived back on campus Friday evening after 15 hours of travel, Roy Williams put them right back out on the practice floor. Not for long, maybe 15 minutes just to stretch their legs and assure they would get a good night’s sleep.
The strategy worked as the Tar Heels (4-1), which ran the Trojans incessantly from one end of the floor to another, were never threatened on the scoreboard.
“When I got back, I got like 12 hours of sleep, and I got like 11 last night,” said Jackie Manuel, whose 14-point, one-turnover performance may have been the most inspiring of all.
As they did in three consecutive wins over BYU, Tennessee and Iowa, the Heels took control of the game from its onset, for which most of the 19,995 fans in attendance were seated well before tip-off.
Not since the 2001 season has UNC scored 90+ points three games in a row.
Carolina shook off early a light coating of rust in the form of some missed shots inside, but showed no ill-effects of jet lag in sprinting out to a 56-28 halftime lead behind a balanced scoring attack and a defense that held USC to 35 percent from the floor in the opening period.
By intermission, all precincts had reported in and projected UNC the winner of its seventh of seven all-time meetings with the Trojans (1-1).
“We knew they were coming,” USC coach Henry Bibby said. “We we’re prepared for it, but they were long, athletic and beat us to some of the spots.”
The Tar Heels put on such a dominant performance in the first half that several members of the media didn’t bother to come out for the second half, with their stories already written except for the final numbers and quotes.
“Maui was great, but we didn’t want to let down, especially in our own place,” said Sean May, whose 17 points and 10 rebounds marked his first statistical “double-double” of the year. “We knew we had to come out and start the game off with a lot of intensity, and we did a great job of doing that.”
For the game, Jawad Williams led five Tar Heels in double figures with a season-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting. And Raymond Felton pushed the ball, then dished it for 12 assists -- his most since setting a school record of 18 last year against George Mason.
“We can’t use Raymond Felton as an excuse [for the Santa Clara loss],” Rashad McCants said. “But, you know, he makes a big difference for us.”
Along with Manuel, Marvin Williams added 14 points, while McCants finished with 13.
“Me personally, I’m a little jet-lagged, and my body is taking a toll on me,” McCants said. “But I think as a whole we came together and had a great effort out there.”
Granted its just five games into the regular season, but for now it’s safe to say the Carolina mystique has returned, as winning big is becoming an increasingly consistent characteristic of this team. With at least five legitimate NBA prospects in the lineup, the 2004-05 edition of the Tar Heels may control their own destiny – as long as they don’t beat themselves or suffer a rash of significant injuries.
Other than that, Roy Williams seems to have all his bases covered at this stage of the schedule.
“We’ve come closer to playing the way I want to play than we did at any time last year,” he said.
Upon scouring the box score for a weakness, Carolina did turn the ball over 20 times and shot a non-descriptive 61.5 percent from the free throw line.
“We missed easy shots early,” Roy Williams said. “I was worried about us being too stagnate or careless out there. And we were lethargic in the second half, but I attribute that to the travel.”
UNC hits the road again this week for ACC-Big Ten Challenge match-up at Indiana (2-0) Wednseday night, before returning home on Saturday with a chance to avenge four-straight losses to Kentucky.
“We know we’ve got Indiana and that’s all we’re focusing on,” Roy Williams said. “I’m not going to talk about Kentucky now. We want to make everything about Sean’s homecoming game a success. Their guys will be fired up to play us with all of the attention we’re getting.”