The usual cast of Tar Heel characters led the scoring effort – Tyler Hansbrough scored 17 points, Brandan Wright had 16 and Wayne Ellington added 15. But alas, Carolina’s defense is beginning to catch up to its high-powered offense.
Either its December slate of opposition has been significantly over-matched or second-ranked UNC (12-1) has simply made it look that way. The Tar Heels’ last four opponents have averaged a meager 20.2 first half points.
“We were really good defensively in the first half,” Roy Williams said. “They’re starting to take more pride in what their doing, and each and every day they’re understanding more what the defensive end of the floor can mean for them.”
The Flyers (10-3) are top contenders in Atlantic 10 Conference, but they missed nine shots in a row early in their final league tune-up. The team hundreds of fans traveled from Ohio to see play in Chapel Hill, limped into halftime shooting 29 percent from the floor and trailing Carolina 34-18.
Dayton finished just 31 percent shooting from the floor, while UNC helped itself to a 44-31 rebounding edge and eight blocked shots.
UNC’s defensive leader Marcus Ginyard said, “We’re starting to realize our potential and understanding when we execute offensively and defensively what this team is capable of.”
The Tar Heels greatest challenge was to try and slow down Flyers’ point guard Brian Roberts, who entered the game averaging 17.3 points per contest. Roberts and teammate Marcus Robinson each scored a co-team high 14, but the two also combined on 19 missed shots. Roberts was just 2-for-7 from beyond the arc.
“We tried to cut down his percentage and tried to get a hand up every time he shot it,” Williams said regarding the defensive game plan on Roberts. “The big guys did a nice job of helping when he did penetrate it.”
One week away from league competition, the Tar Heels currently lead all ACC schools in scoring (89.8), scoring margin (+21.7), field goal percentage (51.2), rebounding margin (+11.8), assists per game (19.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.37).
“They just kind of end up wearing you down both mentally and physically,” UD coach Brian Gregory said. “We knew what a challenge it was going to be coming in here. [UNC] is deep enough, athletic enough and big enough [to win a national championship].”
Felton, May and McCants sat behind the UNC bench during the game and spent some time in the locker room with the current Tar Heels.
“They’re really young and it’s going to take them some time, but I think they’re farther along than we were when we first came in,” May said of this year’s team which also has NCAA championship aspirations.
Carolina hosts Penn (6-5) of the Ivy League Wednesday at 8 p.m.