UNC beats Florida Atlantic 80-56

acarter@newsobserver.comNovember 12, 2012 

— During a recent North Carolina practice, Roy Williams made a simple plea to Reggie Bullock, the Tar Heels’ junior guard. Bullock smiled at the memory of it on Sunday afternoon, after UNC’s 80-56 victory against Florida Atlantic.

“In practice he told me if I got an open look, I better take it,” Bullock said with a grin.

Williams’ directive might have been worded a bit more colorfully. Regardless, Bullock paid attention. After he finished with a quiet five points during the Heels’ season-opening victory against Gardner-Webb on Friday night, Bullock scored seven of UNC’s first nine points against the Owls on Sunday.

The points came on a 3-pointer, a lay-up and a dunk, and the flurry was representative of the kind Bullock might have to repeat often if the Tar Heels are to reach their offensive potential. A season ago, on a team that didn’t lack for scorers and playmakers, Bullock played a complementary role. Now he’s learning to play a more important one.

“I believe I’m still growing into it,” Bullock said.

His early assertiveness was one of a few things that pleased Williams about the Tar Heels’ performance, which provided glimpses into the kind of team No. 11 UNC (2-0) might become while also proving how far the Tar Heels have yet to go. As was the case on Friday night, UNC on Sunday won decisively in spite of itself.

Against FAU (0-1), the Tar Heels shot just 34.2 percent during the first half. Worse, they missed 10 of their first 14 free-throw attempts during the first 20 minutes. All the missed shots, and the overall sloppiness, aggravated Williams.

“If I knew what the [heck] the problem was I would have already fixed it,” Williams said of the free throws.

After UNC finished 12 of 27 from the line, Williams said the Heels had been shooting free throws “tremendously” in practice. During a four-day stretch last week, each player shot 200 free throws, Williams said, and 14 of his players made more than 77 percent.

But the struggles at the line on Sunday made for some teachable moments, as did one sequence when freshmen forwards Joel James and J.P. Tokoto raced down the court too early instead of staying behind to help rebound. Williams took advantage of the opportunity to impart some wisdom on the pair.

“Well we’ll find out if they learned,” Williams said. “… I told them to get their big butt and little butt or any kind of butt in their on the backboards [and rebound]. So I think they learned from it.”

After the game, Williams said he told James and Tokoto that they had “survived my first explosion.”

“But I liked a lot of things today,” Williams said.

UNC sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, who led the Heels with 26 points on Friday night, finished with a game-high 19 against FAU. In addition to Bullock’s 16 points, James (11 points) and fellow freshman Brice Johnson (12) were the other Tar Heels who scored in double figures.

After Bullock’s seven-point surge early on, the UNC offense settled into a pattern of missed shots and sloppy execution. The Heels led 32-24 at halftime, and gradually increased the lead during the second half while offense became crisper.

UNC, which shot 54.5 percent during the second half, went ahead by 20 points for the first time with 6:54 to play, after Bullock’s 3-pointer gave UNC a 67-46 lead.

“We knew that Reggie was going to do what he did today sooner or later,” said McAdoo, the 6-foot-9 forward who was one of the primary reasons why the Heels outscored the Owls 42-12 in the paint. “It was just a matter of him doing it in his own time. He did that. He’s not going to force anything. He’s very unselfish.”

After the game on Friday, though, Williams criticized Bullock for being too unselfish. Those words didn’t make it back to Bullock, he said, but he understood anyway.

“I believe I wasn’t looking for my shot enough,” Bullock said. “I wasn’t being aggressive enough. I had a couple of open looks but the ball, if I catch it [and it doesn’t] feel right, I just swing it to the next player. But today, the threads came to me and I just shot the ball.”

Bullock made six of his seven attempts from the field, and missed just one of the four 3-pointers he attempted. He and his teammates scored 18 points off of the 17 turnovers they forced, and UNC outscored FAU 14-2 on fast-break points.

The final margin concealed some of UNC’s mistakes, many of which were still fresh in Williams’ mind afterward. Those mistakes, if not corrected, are only likely to become magnified in the coming days, when the competition becomes more difficult.

The Tar Heels, who on Sunday played their final game of the month in the Smith Center, travel to California later this week to play Long Beach State. Then it’s a trip to Hawaii for the always-competitive Maui Invitational. Williams liked a lot of what he saw on Sunday, but he spoke of greater challenges ahead.

“We got better, he said. “But we need to get better.”

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