Heels impress in exhibition win

McCants slams home two of his 23 points.

CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina avenged last season's stunning preseason loss Saturday with a 109-97 exhibition win over the EA Sports Southeast All-Stars in Chapel Hill. This clearly isn't last year's Tar Heels.

Locker Room Report - Doherty Quotes - Photos I - Photos II - Video Box Score

"It's nice to win a basketball game," head coach Matt Doherty said postgame. "Granted it's an exhibition, but I like the way our kids played. It was a good test because that's a good team. I'm happy that we won and happy that everyone contributed."

There's simply no resemblance to the 2001 UNC squad that suffered a 31-point defeat at the hands of an EA Sports group.

In the 2001 loss, the Tar Heels shot 38 percent from the field, 18 percent from three-point range and recorded 19 assists. Saturday's stats were 56 percent from the field, 48 percent from three-point range and 28 assists – in front of a Smith Center crowd that more than doubled last year's turnout.

So what accounted for the difference?

"We had fun tonight," said Jawad Williams, who tied for a game-high 23 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. "We didn't look at it as a job, we looked at it as a chance to go out, get better and have fun.

More specifically, though, this year's Tar Heels feature an arsenal of skilled athletes who can both score and set up teammates.

"It's a totally different team," senior Will Johnson said. "The five returners remember last season and don't want to forget that, but with six new guys who all contribute, it's really a fresh start.

"We've got a lot of athleticism, a lot of guys who can pass it and a lot of guys who can score. Coach recruits guys that can pass, handle and shoot – and that was evident tonight and that's a fun way to play ball."

But the biggest difference maker this season will be Raymond Felton, who recorded nine assists (to four turnovers).

"I just run as hard as I can down the court and I know that Raymond is going to create and find the open guy," Johnson said. "I love that – he just makes me better."

Felton also had 16 points and five steals. Rashad McCants added 23 points and seven boards.

Sean May, who has missed significant practice time due to two troublesome knees and a hip flexor, was an important offensive presence in the low blocks with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting.

EA Sports jumped out to a 27-19 lead to open the game, thanks to a three-point barrage that consisted of the team combining for 7-for-8 from beyond the arc.

However the Heels appeared unfazed by the early deficit, as two Melvin Scott threes and seven straight points from Sean May fueled a 23-6 run that put UNC ahead for good.

"We got to them and eventually [they started missing]," Doherty said. "I figured if we kept after them, hopefully we could wear them down."

The closest EA Sports would get to the Heels in the second half was trailing 64-59 at the 14:01 mark. The Carolina lead ballooned to 22 points, at 105-83, in with a few minutes remaining.

While there was a cheerful air in the locker room afterwards, Doherty put the win in perspective.

"I'm pleased, but we have to get better," he said. "We haven't won a championship yet. We've got work to do but I like what I have to work with. It's a good start, but that's all it is – just a start."

Notes: Jackie Manuel re-aggravated a groin injury suffered a couple of days ago and sat out the rest of the game after playing only seven minutes. … Doherty started Felton, Manuel, Johnson, Williams and May. He said postgame that, while the lineup is subject to change, the backups at each position as of now are Jonathan Holmes at the point, Melvin Scott at the offguard, McCants on the wing, David Noel at the power forward, while Byron Sanders and Damion Grant both back up May. … This was the EA Sports team's seventh game in ten days.

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