Paced by 19 points from Rashad McCants, Carolina cruised to an 80-54 win over Vermont Thursday night before a Smith Center crowd of 16,258.
"I thought we played well," head coach Matt Doherty said postgame. "Did we play great? No, we didn't play great. This being exam week, I'd give us maybe a B+. There was some rust there, but that's to be expected [after a 12-day break]."
Jawad Williams added 16 points, while Jackie Manuel had an impressive all-around outing. The spindly, and sometimes shaky, sophomore posted a confident 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and five steals.
"Most people judge him on shooting, but Jackie's been playing great," Doherty said. "It was an added bonus that he shot 4-for-5 from three tonight."
Carolina's low-post star Sean May had an off night (six points and six boards), but noted the importance of Manuel's contributions.
"[When he's playing that well] it just shows us how good we can be," May said of his teammate. "He's a great scorer, but more importantly he's a great defender. Jack's a great player, and most importantly he loves defense. When we're all rolling, we're a scary team to play against."
The Tar Heels roared out to a 21-5 lead at the 12:44 mark, led by three three-pointers from Manuel. Seconds later, Doherty mercifully subbed the entire starting lineup.
"I don't mean to be demeaning to the people that he put in, but the other guys were just going so well," Vermont head coach Tom Brennan remarked. "They were just rolling and the place was nuts and I just can't thank [Doherty] enough. They could have scored a hundred and he subbed those five guys and kind of let us get our legs a little bit.
"Matt Doherty learned a lot of great things from Dean Smith. One of the apparent things he learned from him was grace."
But after the substitutions, the Tar Heels stalled, going scoreless over the three-minute stretch with the "Blue Team." Vermont, meanwhile, gained confidence and played with poise when the UNC starters returned.
The Catamounts closed the lead to nine on two occasions, as the Carolina offense fell out-of-synch and relied too heavily on the three-point shot. The Heels were 5-for-21 from beyond the arc on the half and led 35-26 going into the locker room.
"It was hard to turn down the threes when you're so wide open," McCants said. "It was just a matter of us making the extra pass and getting the ball inside."
Doherty said, "In the first half, we got a false sense of security shooting threes – we took 21 threes, and that's way too many. In the second half we tried to make a conscious effort to get the ball inside."
Improved shot selection and better passing in the second half led to better looks, many of the jaw-dropping dunk variety – highlighted by a David Noel whirlwind dunk – as the Heels slowly pulled away.
"We took care of business the way we should," Doherty said. "I don't think the game was ever in doubt."
UNC improved on its 36 percent first-half numbers from the field by shooting at a 61-percent clip in the second stanza.
The Tar Heel defense held Vermont to 34 percent shooting on the game, and forced 23 turnovers.
"I thought the defense – for the most part – was there," Doherty said. "There were lulls, and I want it at 100%, but for the most part I was pleased with our defensive energy."
The easy win provided an opportunity for the UNC head coach to give freshman seven-footer Damion Grant some much needed experience. Grant, from whom the Heels will require significant playing time as the season wears on, was on the floor for 11 minutes, registering four points, three rebounds and three blocks.
"He did a lot of good things," Doherty said. "He's really getting better and the better shape he gets in the more he'll play. I thought he gave us some real positive minutes."
Carolina travels to Tallahassee on Sunday for the ACC opener against Florida State. On the immediate horizon are trips to New York and Miami, and a rematch with Davidson before classes resume.