“Tonight we wanted to make a point to come out with a lot of defensive energy,” Preseason All-America Tyler Hansbrough said. “We’ve been working on it in practice, and we just wanted to come out there after what happened last Saturday. We wanted to really improve defensively.”
Head coach Roy Williams has placed an added emphasis on defensive effort this preseason, and the results have been evident through two exhibition contests. Shaw and Lenoir-Rhyne combined to shoot 32.5 percent (41-of-126) from the floor against the veteran Tar Heel lineup, but the fifth-year head coach is not quite ready to describe his team as a lockdown defensive squad.
“We’re making some strides defensively,” Williams said. “Wednesday night, we did some really good things [in practice] after I got on them a little bit. I think that every single day is going to be a progression for us… We have some gifted kids that can shoot and score and pass and those kinds of things, but we’ve got to become a much more cohesive unit on the defensive end of the floor.”
Physical play headlined the early moments of Friday night’s contest, with North Carolina holding just a 23-10 lead with 9:23 left before halftime. Lenoir-Rhyne disrupted the Tar Heels’ offense by doubling down on the low post seemingly on every possession, a trend that Williams anticipates will continue as the season moves along.
“I think Lenoir-Rhyne did some nice things,” Williams said. “I think their doubling of the low post is something we’re going to face all year, and we’ve got to do a better job of handing that than we did tonight.”
But UNC’s aggressive pressure forced a 9:06 early scoring drought for the Bears, and Hansbrough’s 14 first-half points finally ignited the offense in a 18-0 run to surge the Heels to a 49-22 halftime lead. The junior finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, despite leaving the game with 13:10 remaining due to a jammed right thumb.
That intensity carried over to the offensive end of the floor, highlighted by 19 offensive rebounds. Danny Green accounted for six of those boards, en route to a 16-point, 10-rebound performance while manning the No. 4 spot for a good portion of the evening. But despite a 50-24 rebounding edge, more work has to be done on the glass and in protecting the ball in the coming weeks.
“We’ve got to get more consistent inside play on the backboards,” Williams said. “If we can do that, and get more consistent ball-handling from the perimeter – those are the two things I think we need to focus on. We had twelve turnovers at half and only had eight in the second half. I can live with some of those, but the ones in the first half, I gave them six at halftime that were just unforced turnovers, and we can’t do those kinds of things.”
North Carolina attempted nearly as many free throws (40-51 for 78.4 percent) as they did field goals (32-56 for 57.1 percent) in their final exhibition game before the season opener next week.
“I feel like we’re making progress,” Williams said. “I think that we better make progress, because we’re going to play an awfully good team Wednesday night when we go to Charlotte to play Davidson.”