While winning is the ultimate objective, head coach Roy Williams was not pleased by the show his Heels put on, eventually losing his patience with his team late in the second half as Carolina was able to pull away on the scoreboard despite the sloppy play.
“The second half is not something that we are proud of but Rutgers kept coming at us,” Williams said after the game. “We gave them an awful lot of easy shots and turned it over a lot. 13 assists and 16 turnovers. We have got to do a better job.”
The Heels move to 10-3 on the season heading into Wednesday’s game against Albany. Rutgers fell to 9-3 on the year.
Inside the Game
With Marcus Ginyard missing his second game of the season, Strickland was expected to garner big minutes in the senior’s place. Justin Watts started in Ginyard’s place alongside Larry Drew in the backcourt, so Strickland’s familiar role as an early substitute off the bench remained the same.
Looking at Strickland’s numbers on the stat sheet show an impressive game for the freshman. Career highs in points (18) and assists (4) to go with two steals in just 18 minutes. From courtside, it was easy to see the difference in the game with Strickland on the court. He is clearly the only Tar Heel that can get in the lane and to the basket with any consistency.
While those traits are a must for this team to reach it’s potential, Strickland better polish up on the other end of the court if he expects increased minutes night in and night out.
“Speed is good,” Williams commented about Strickland’s play. “He came down and drove in there and got a layup. He gave up a basket before the layup and gave up a three after the layup so that’s the reason he came right back out. I told him his offense was great and everyone was cheering for him. He scored two points and gave up five.
“(Then he) didn’t know what to do in the corner in a late game situation. It was either a four or six point game and talent took over and he shot it. I hated the shot, but it went in. So talent took over above coaching.”
While Williams bent the freshman’s ear about his lapses, Strickland understands his importance as this season progresses and what he has to do to make an impact. And there’s still time to ‘get it’ before the ACC race kicks in.
“Each and every game I am just getting more confidence and feeling good about myself,” Strickland said after his performance. “I know I could have had more points or helped the team get a better win, but all that matters is getting the win.
“Every team needs practice to capitalize on our mistakes. We have to stay focused. We practice on it all the time, we just have to bring it to the game.”
Making the Graves
While this writer recently thought that it was time to relegate Will Graves to the bench after an 0-fer performance against Presbyterian and minimal minutes at Texas, Graves played perhaps his best game in a Tar Heel uniform in the rout of Marshall. Graves came off the bench in that game and played like the player Carolina needs him to be as January rolls around.
Tonight Graves was back in the starting lineup and got the Heels going by converting an offensive rebound into a dunk for Carolina’s first bucket of the night. After a three pointer and a steal leading to two Strickland free throws, Graves checked out of the game at the 12:59 mark with seven of Carolina’s 18 points.
“I am always always consciously looking to do the little things,” Graves said of his fast start. “Coach is always stressing the little things so I feel like any way I can get the game going (on a good note) I try to do that.”
But after Graves checked out of the game seven minutes in, his game checked out with him and though he totaled 30 minutes played, he basically disappeared on the court - at least from the positive standpoint.
“First half I thought he was effective,” Williams said of Graves. “Second half ... you guys can tell ... how can you expect me to be pleased. Will Graves is one of the players that has been here four years - I have always said don’t shoot it as soon as you get in the game. First time I put him in after a time out in the second half, he shot from the corner and missed it.”
Graves, like Strickland, outwardly understands his coaches frustration and when asked of what has to happen for this team to ‘get it’, Graves responded only, “Focus ... just focus.”
It won’t take long to know for sure if that simple answer is the simple solution.
Four bigs and a little. It’s a lineup Williams has tried with little success this year and tonight was no exception. Two straight possessions of not picking up correctly on defense put an end to that ploy to slow Rutgers.
Why not play zone? It’s a question heard often with Carolina’s clear size advantage. Williams put that to rest in a hurry in his postgame press conference.
“We played zone one possession so we’ve played zone two possessions all year,” Williams said when asked of the strategy. “One, John Wall made a three at Kentucky. This one I think it was Jonathan Mitchell that made it from the corner. But if you are going to play zone, if the guy is in your zone, you have to play man-to-man. We just let the guys drive in there. So we’ve played zone two possessions this year and given up six points.”
Williams is clearly frustrated with his team 13 games into the season and knows that Jan. 10 will bring the start of the usual tough ACC season. Confidence will be the key to this team’s success and it’s not easy passing along that concept when the Heels continue to make the same mistakes game in and game out.
“At times we’ve gotten better and at times we’ve played really good basketball,” the head coach said. “We haven’t come together as a team and it’s frustrating because I am the kind of guy that wants to give kids confidence. But when we are having to repeat the same things over and over it is hard to give confidence.”
Deon Thompson gets it as well as any senior should.
“I think we are only winning right now off our talent,” Thompson said. “God has just given this team more gifts than other teams and we’ve been able to win like that. But in two games it’s not going to work, just showing up and playing with sheer talent. We are going to have to execute things and do things right on the defensive end. We are going to have to change to be a good team or keep doing the same and be a mediocre team.”
Two more gimmes and then the fun starts...