Ellington scored 12 points and grabbed three steals in the opening 7:41 against the Bulldogs, serving as the only smooth element of an otherwise unpolished UNC offensive performance.
"It just came my way,” Ellington said. “I got some deflections in the passing lane and that sparked it for me, creating some breaks, and got me flowing."
S.C. State’s zone defense made things tedious for the Tar Heels’ halfcourt offense, but that did not prevent Tyler Hansbrough from bullying his way to the rim. The Preseason All-America led all scorers with 26 points (7-of-12 field goals, 12-of-14 from the free throw line), while Ellington finished with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
“I thought Wayne got us off to a great start early,” head coach Roy Williams said. “I thought that 20 was his career high, and I left him in there one extra possession and he got a wide open three and missed it, so I told him that I did my job, he just has to do his.”
In a solid defensive display, North Carolina tallied nine steals and forced 18 turnovers en route to a 61-34 lead at intermission. Possibly even more impressive was that the Tar Heels committed only four turnovers of their own, while using 13 assists to post a 47.4 shooting percentage in the opening 20 minutes.
But North Carolina emerged from halftime a little less focused, committing 14 turnovers to only 11 assists.
“It was ragged,” Williams said of the second half errors. “We’ve got to do a better job of distributing the basketball without taking chances, without jumping up in the air and charging people and those kinds of things.”
The damage was already done, however, as the Bulldogs lacked the necessary firepower to compete with the nation’s top-ranked team. Head coach Tim Carter’s squad shot 40.4 percent (23-of-57, 7-of-11 from behind the arc) on the night while allowing the Tar Heels to connect on 53.7 percent (36-of-67, 9-of-22 on threes) of their field goals.
“We’re more gifted than South Carolina State is,” Williams said. “We’re bigger and we should win, but I was pleased with our intensity… I feel good about it. It was a workmanlike effort – That’s what I asked the team [for].”
Deon Thompson (eight points, four rebounds) and Alex Stepheson (11 points, nine rebounds) continued to grow in their adjustment to seeing more significant minutes, while Danny Green’s role continues to flourish as the first player off the bench, posting 15 points, two blocks and two steals in 18 minutes. Even red-shirt freshman William Graves displayed his shooting ability, knocking down two threes and contributing seven points in limited action.
Despite another blowout against an inferior opponent, North Carolina still appears to be rounding the edges in Williams’ up-tempo system. The mental errors and missed opportunities need to be resolved quickly, as the Tar Heels embark on a six-game road trip that begins Friday in Las Vegas and ends 24 days from now at Rutgers in New Jersey.
“It’s a challenging six-game stretch,” Williams said. “We’ve got to keep getting better.”
With a matchup against sixth-ranked Louisville potentially looming on Saturday night, this journey away from the Smith Center includes three legitimate opponents in the next 11 days, but Green believes that his teammates are up for the challenge.
"It's going to be a stretch where we're going to be on the road a lot, so we'll see how we handle it and see how things go,” Green said. “I think we'll be fine."