In front of a surprisingly large Smith Center crowd considering the circumstances, Ed Davis’ 20 points and 10 rebounds led the Tar Heels’ 103-64 rout of the Blue Hose. Larry Drew continued his impressive early season play dishing out nine assists to only one turnover while adding three steals to go along with 12 points. Deon Thompson chipped in 19 points in only 18 minutes of action as the Heels improved to 8-2 on the year while Presbyterian fell to 2-8.
Inside the Game
Though Marcus Ginyard’s absence was expected, seeing Ginyard decked out in a vest and tie certainly reminded many of his position last year. While it is the same foot that cost Ginyard last year, the injury is not.
“Slight pain but I want to be careful,” Ginyard said later. And when asked if he thought if it was the same as last year’s injury, Ginyard answered simply, “No.”
“He’s had an X-Ray, he’s had a MRI, he’s had a bone scan.....we’ve done everything we can.” Williams said of his senior’s injury, “Nothing has shown up yet except Marcus’ pain that makes us worry.”
Joining Ginyard in the formal wear was the one player looking to take on the most additional playing time with the senior out. Dexter Strickland missed that opportunity as a Friday practice injury forced the freshman to sit.
“He jumped up to dunk and felt something pop,” Williams said, “We didn’t know what it was but he had a little swelling so we decided to hold him out because it was stiff.”
While the Heels got through the 40 minutes of game time without incident, Thompson’s limited minutes were not just in an effort to get the bench players more time.
“I tried to keep Deon’s minutes down because he has tendonitis and that has been acting up,” Williams said about the senior.
Thompson said, “I ran into the back of someone’s foot in practice and hyperextended my knee so coach did a good job of managing my minutes tonight.”
And Carolina’s leader isn’t worried about the issue going forward. “No not at all, I feel good now and two days off is only going to help me get ready going into Texas.”
Fortunately for Thompson and the others, they’ll have a week to rest before the Heels travel to Texas for that big-time matchup against the Longhorns.
With Williams resting Ginyard and Strickland, Justin Watts received his first career start and spurred the Heels’ opening run.
“I thought Justin was really active early,” Williams said, “I think defensively he did some nice things for us but the best thing was chasing down two offensive rebounds and I think both of those were in the first five minutes of the game.”
Watts’ first basket put the Heels up 8-0, but it was an offensive rebound and assist that got the Carolina ball rolling over the Hose.
“I was just going to go out there and play hard,” Watts said of the start. “When you play hard, a couple things fall your way and that’s what happened for me tonight.”
Thompson said of Watts’ play, “Justin was aggressive getting to the basket and you can see how athletic his is. Something like this is only going to help us and gives Justin a little more confidence. Put him in the starting lineup and he went out there and did some good things for us.”
For the night, Watts totaled nine points and four rebounds to go along with three assists. The only negative - and in a tight ACC contest could be a potential problem - Watts missed all three free throws he took.
But Watts wasn’t the only Carolina substitute to see significant action early. Strickland’s absence put senior walk-on Marc Campbell in the mix, providing Drew a rest at the point. Campbell entered the game just four minutes in and managed 14 minutes of action on the evening, giving the Heels quality back up minutes at the depleted point.
Campbell’s three pointer and Leslie McDonald’s three-point play with 11:06 to play in the game provided a couple of the loudest Smith Center cheers of the night - at least until walk on Thomas Thornton’s three with 2:20 left put the Heels up 100-56. McDonald struggled a bit in the first half but looked much more comfortable as the game progressed.
While Williams will undoubtedly continue to shorten his rotation, getting extended playing time for those guys down the bench will only help down the road. If there is a tangible benefit of playing a game like tonight’s, that point will certainly top the list.
The outcome of this game was never in doubt, even before the opening tip. So in critiquing the performance of the Tar Heels, defense becomes the center point. And judging from the game’s opening minutes, the commitment to defense was evident.
Carolina led 8-0 just two minutes in, with the outmatched Presbyterian players struggling to even get shots to the rim. While Drew and Watts supplied the on-ball pressure, Davis shut down the middle, finishing the half with three blocks.
“I try to do that every game,” said Davis said of his early blocks. “I don’t think I did anything different.”
What the interior defense did accomplish is help Carolina to a 40-12 lead with five minutes remaining in the half. The familiarity of the score forever etched in Carolina lore was a thought not lost on press row.
The Blue Hose managed just 27 percent shooting for the half, but did manage to outscore the Heels 11-8 over the last three minutes of the stanza, giving the Heels the 56-21 halftime advantage.
Watts continued the defensive heat with a steal to open the second half, but while the lead eventually stretched to 47 at 93-46 with 4:36 left, Carolina’s defensive focus waned after the first half blitz.
“I thought we were so much more active defensively in the first half," Williams said. "We made shots and we didn’t give them any second shots. That was the ball game in the first half. In the second half, I don’t think we had the same intensity, which is a natural human reaction with that big a lead.
“But I think you have to congratulate Presbyterian. They shot 57 percent in the second half, 58 percent on threes. They broke us down a little bit more off the dribble and we weren’t as active....I think (Presbyterian head coach) Greg Nibert would be happy about the way his team played in the second half.”
No doubt the Blue Hose played better as the game went on - forward Chase Holmes torched the Heels for 22 of his game-high 29 points in the second half - but the pattern of the Heels playing on all cylinders for one half a night is an issue that must be corrected, and soon. Exams and the long layoff between games can be cited as a reason this night, but the Heels won’t have the the books hanging over their heads as they travel west for the match up in Cowboy Stadium.
“We are student athletes and coming here we knew we would have to put our books first and basketball second,” Drew said after the win. “Having a game like this is something to keep us busy.
"(Staying focused) is something we have to work on as a team. We have gotten off to some big leads and then gotten sluggish so that’s something we have been trying to work on. Coach has told us that once we get a lead to keep our foot on their throat and keep going.”
For Drew and his teammates, exams wrap up early in the coming week and then the fun starts at Texas next Saturday at 2 p.m.