The Tar Heels easily dispatched the Blue Hose, 103-64, in a game that was a name-your-score affair for the home team. Presbyterian dressed just nine scholarship players, six of whom are true or redshirt freshmen, and had already been beaten by Clemson and Illinois by 40-plus points.
PC is red-shirting its only three returning starters from last season’s team to bolster its chances when it’s a full-time member next year in the Big South Conference. It just wasn’t a good team.
So, what did UNC get from playing a team like this?
“It was definitely a good feeling to win a game,” Deon Thompson said. “That’s always, no matter who it’s against, it always feels good to win. (And) we didn’t have a good week of practice. We didn’t get too much out of it. I think tonight we got a lot out of this game.”
Here are some other reasons playing a game like this at this time can be beneficial:
Exams – Exams began Friday and a couple of Heels took a pair several hours before Saturday’s contest. Taking on an inferior opponent taxed the team much less than if it had met a quality foe. There was little mental buildup and there wasn’t any chance of a surprising – and damaging – defeat. This isn’t the first time Roy Williams has welcomed a major cupcake to the Dean Dome at exam time and it won’t be the last.
“I think they set this up well with a game like this (during exams),” Ed Davis said. “Whoever we play we try to beat and we always play hard, but the challenge here was a little different.”
Workout – The team hasn’t practiced well this week and it needed a good workout. The players needed to get on the court and churn their wheels, get into the open court, battle on the glass, scramble on defense and react to unplanned situations. They needed to work up a good sweat, and a game like this helps avoid getting rusty and breaks the monotony of an arduous period of exams. There is tremendous value to this.
Combinations – Playing a significantly weaker opponent gives a coach the flexibility to look at various player groupings. And with Marcus Ginyard and Dexter Strickland out with injuries, Williams explored deeper than he normally would in mid-December. This was in some respects a showcase for Justin Watts, who started at the two spot, to prove he’s worthy of inclusion in the eventual trimmed-down rotation. He did okay, scoring nine points, grabbing four rebounds and handing out three assists in a career-high 23 minutes.
Execution – While getting in a workout is definitely a positive, playing the Blue Hose allowed Carolina chances to shore up some rough edges on both ends of the floor and simply go through its stuff against another team. Offensive execution is always important and should be taken seriously, even when going unopposed in practice. There’s a reason every coach in the universe would love to have a nickel for each time they’ve told their teams to “run it again.” With 25 assists and just nine turnovers, UNC got something out of this game offensively. Defensively, Presbyterian converted on 57 percent of its field goal attempts in the second half.
“It’s important to play a game like this because in practice we run our stuff against each other and some guys cheat the plays so it’s a lot harder,” Davis said. “With a different opponent, it’s kind of hard for them to (cheat) and this kind of game allows us to work on being sharp.”
Depth – Obviously, another benefit is this enables the coach to give his bench experience. Eleven Tar Heels played at least 12 minutes, even though Ginyard and Strickland were out. Marc Campbell played 13 minutes backing up Larry Drew at the point, the Wears combined for 30 minutes, and John Henson (11 points, nine rebounds) was in for 17 minutes. This will pay dividends in how those players practice, which will make Carolina better down the road.
Victory – As Thompson said, tasting victory is always good for a team regardless of who it defeats. The Tar Heels hadn’t known the feel of a win in 11 days and doesn’t play for another week, so this one needs to linger for a while.