Deon Thompson tied his career high with 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Tar Heels methodically built a 35-17 lead less than 12 minutes into the first half. North Carolina never really blew this one open, taking a 53-38 margin into the break and not reaching its largest lead until a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left sealed the final score.
Tyler Zeller added 16 points off the bench and Ed Davis posted 15 points and 13 rebounds for UNC. Gardner-Webb guard Grayson Flittner tied a Smith Center record with nine 3-pointers en route to a game high 32 points on 10-of-19 shooting (9-of-16 from long range).
North Carolina shot 56.1 percent (37-of-66) from the floor, while holding the Bulldogs to 37.7 percent shooting (26-of-69, 15-of-36 on 3-pointers). The Tar Heels forced 22 turnovers despite committing 16 of their own, and also won the rebounding battle, 50-32.
With a first half bucket, Thompson became the 63rd Tar Heel to score 1,000 or more points. He now has 1,008 points, the 62nd-most in UNC history after passing Tommy LaGarde (1,007).
INSIDE THE GAME
There is No Time Like the Present
The conversation erupted out of the blue on Monday night as senior Deon Thompson graded his team’s performance without being prompted.
“Overall, I give us probably a C+ for the way we played today,” Thompson said. “We’re not too into it mentally with being excited about to play right now and we don’t know why, but hopefully it will get better.”
When pressed on those comments, Thompson indicated that he had not yet addressed the blasé approach to the game with his teammates.
“That is something that we do need to change and find a way how to change it,” Thompson said. “Find that spark and that energy that we do need.”
The Torrance, Calif. native confirmed that he has felt this way all season long.
“It’s just not that energy that our previous teams that I’ve played on always had,” Thompson said. “We came out excited to play the games with each other and things like that, but it’s just like we come out slow.”
When asked if nervousness is playing a role with his inexperienced teammates, Thompson admitted that butterflies could be a part of the problem.
“We have so many young guys that haven’t been on this stage,” Thompson said. “… I just don’t like to say [it’s] the fact that we’re young because we’re all basketball players.”
Fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard echoed his teammate’s comments, saying that while there are moments when enthusiasm is at a fever pitch, there are also times when the excitement is lacking, both on and off the court.
“For these young guys, they probably see that there’s a lot of time ahead of them,” Ginyard said. “Even some of the older guys, too, that may have a year left. Sometimes it gets in the back of your mind that little games like this aren’t important. But really, we should be excited every time we get out there, because sooner or later, you count down until you don’t have any more… We need to be cherishing these moments a lot more than we have been.”
Forty years from now, Tar Heel fans will look through the record books and see Tyler Hansbrough’s name in a variety of categories. But the one thing that future UNC generation won’t have a full appreciation for when it comes to No. 50 is that he brought an unparalleled passion to the court every single night.
That level of energy has nothing to do with talent, size or experience – it’s just about desire. Add that to the list of lessons this Tar Heel squad is going to have to learn before ACC play tips off in January.
Tinkering with the Lineup
Through North Carolina’s first five games, Roy Williams’ substitutions followed a consistent pattern. Tyler Zeller was the first player off the bench, Justin Watts subbed in for Ginyard at the 2-spot, Dexter Strickland for Larry Drew at the point, John Henson for Will Graves at the 3, and so on.
But things changed in that regard on Monday night.
At the 11:03 media timeout of the first half, Ginyard and Drew subbed in for Watts and Henson to join Strickland, Thompson and Zeller on the floor. That marked the first time this season that Strickland had seen action at the 2-spot – a position he excelled at during his high school career. That grouping remained until the 8:53 buzzer.
A similar substitution occurred at the 12:06 mark of the second half, when Drew subbed in for Ginyard, sliding Strickland over to the 2-spot along with David Wear, Davis and Zeller. Drew and Strickland worked together until the 10:27 horn.
Williams was asked during his postgame press conference if those changes provided him with enough information to make a permanent adjustment.
“I’m not willing to say that, but you know you’re not going to know unless you try,” Williams said. “So we did some unusual things, because that is the first time with Dexter and Larry in together… It was probably a little hectic for them out there.”
Strickland admitted the shift this season to point guard has been a “challenge,” but also indicated that his head coach is looking out for his NBA potential by forcing him to learn his future position at the professional level.
“It felt good – it gave me memories of high school when I used to run the 2,” said Strickland, who was 0-for-2 with one assist during his time at the 2-spot. “I think it gave me a little bit more freedom to attack the boards and get extra shots. It felt good out there.”
If it seems like the coaching staff is working on the rotation right in front of your eyes, then you would be correct. The team’s 24th practice took place on Sunday morning at 8 a.m. Last season, the national championship squad held its 24th practice before the season opener.
“We still have a lot of teaching to do,” Williams said. “And we’re still trying to give some guys some opportunities to decide whether they’re going to be a player or not, whether they’re going to one in the main rotation or not, because we’re getting close to where we have to tighten up the rotation. I’m not going to play 12 guys just because I like the way they smile.”