The season opener for #11/#12 North Carolina was a tale of two halves, where in the first one the Tar Heels dominated in every way imaginable, going to the locker with a 58 to 21 lead versus Oakland, and coasted, while not looking as focused/sharp in the second half, to a 84 to 61 final. So, in some ways the season opener for head coach Roy Williams’ team was like their exhibition a week ago against UNC Pembroke. But in many others the two games were totally different.
One of the most interesting quotes in the post game was not from anyone from UNC, but from the Oakland head coach, who said…
“They made tough shots but they also got a lot of easy ones,” Kampe said. “And then we start taking bad shots, which was leading to runouts and easy plays. And we couldn’t stop the snowball from going.”
…adding that his team was “shell-shocked” early.
Maybe the few months of aggravation that the team has gone through due to the off the court issues all came out in the first twenty minutes of the season opener, and Oakland was the unlucky recipient of it. Or maybe, this squad is gelling well, and they are going to be better than what some had thought. Or, it might have just been a combination of both!
The Tar Heels shot better than 70% from the field in the first 20 minutes, and it just felt that the squad was totally immersed in to what they were doing, backing up the Friday statement from junior forward James McAdoo of … “that what was going on with the NCAA had not been a distraction to the squad”. Mc Adoo was one rebound away from a double double, ending up with a team high 21 points (sixth time he scored 20+ points), 15 in the first half, to go with nine rebounds.
It was great to see the third year forward have a good performance in the home opener, but that was to be expected or hoped. On the other hand, what J.P. Tokoto did not many expected, as the sophomore scored 13 points along with five assists and four steals and three rebounds, with most of his production coming in the first half. The one blemish in Tokoto’s first start ever in Chapel Hill were the team high five turnovers, while the highlights might be the two alley opps he made in the first half.
“Just helping my team out wherever we need it,” Tokoto said. “Coach is telling me I’m just going to have to focus on not turning the ball over … but we were rolling in the first half and that’s what we like to do — just get out and run and share the ball. And that’s what we’re going to focus on this year.”
“He’s played really well,” coach Roy Williams said. “He’s been a great rebounder, he’s been a great defensive player. His shot is better. We want him to understand it’s a work in progress, it’s going to get better and better and better.”
Yes, it was a game against an inferior team, but overall the perimeter transition with freshman Nate Britt, four points ~ three assists, at the point, sophomore Marcus Paige, 14 pts (12 coming off three pointers) ~ five assists, at the off guard and Tokoto at the three worked quite well. And you have to believe that has the trio keeps working together the chemistry will get better and better.
Also to be noted, Joel James must have been the one that brought coach Williams “the best dessert after practice”, as he started in the middle in both halves of the game, and while the sophomore still needs to work more on his scoring, grabbing eight rebounds is good enough if McAdoo can keep up his production during the season.
If memory serves me right, one of the pet peeve for most of the fans is that the first game of the season under coach Williams the squad always comes out slow. Not this time, they looked ready to go from the opening whistle. The key now is to make sure that they do not slow down after each intermission, as that might catch up with them down the road.
“We’re working extremely hard to be the best team we can be, regardless of who’s on the floor,” Paige said. “Coach always says that regardless of who’s on the team, North Carolina’s still got to play tonight. And tonight we really came together and just decided we were going to come out and try to execute perfectly.”
This quote is key to me, as it shows that no individual is more important than the program. That it never matters who’s name is on the back of the jersey and only what it says on the front of it. That at Chapel Hill the “Carolina Way” is still alive and well. While I am sure both the fan base and the team itself would like to have their two missing players back, tonight these young men put in a solid effort, especially in the first half.
In all five Tar Heels scored in double digits. Besides McAdoo, Paige and Tokoto, the other two were Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, who both ended up with ten points. In all eight players got double digit minutes of playing time, while other two played at least five. And while it is not something that we will see once the meat of the season arrives, the fact that coach Williams can get as many to have playing time will help this team as they move forward.
It would not be fair if I did not point out the problems in this game. Which were two… turnovers, 18 in this one, way too many, as well as free throw shooting, 65% (13 of 20), which is too low. Both need to improve if this squad wants to accomplish good things this season. And both will hurt the squad if they do not improve.
It goes without saying that this team will be better once all the players are allowed to participate in games, you could argue that this line up in the first half looked as good, if not better, than the team did at anytime last season. Sure it was the first game of the season, against an inferior opponent, but still it’s been a while since you saw as crisp of a half as you did last night.
Now for Heels it’s back to the grind, as North Carolina will not return to the hardwoods until next Friday when they host Holy Cross. Maybe by then both the program, and in turn the fan base, might know more about the pair of players under NCAA review. On the other hand, even if the verdicts are in it is highly unlikely that either of the players will be allowed to play, making me believe that this line up will be back on the court a week from now. After the showing against Oakland that is not a bad thing at all!