UNC coasts to 78-55 win over East Tennessee State

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 9, 2012 

— About eight minutes had gone by in what became North Carolina’s 78-55 victory against East Tennessee State on Saturday night when James Michael McAdoo, the Tar Heels’ sophomore forward, glanced at the scoreboard.

“I didn’t know what we were getting into,” McAdoo said later. “But as soon as I saw at the second media timeout when they only had four points, you could see where the game was going. So we just really tried to work on our defensive and offensive principles.”

That’s all the No. 20 Tar Heels (7-2) could do against the overmatched Buccaneers (2-5), who scored their fourth point of the game with 12:22 to go before halftime and didn’t score again for more than eight minutes. By then, UNC led 34-7, and it led 42-12 at halftime.

ETSU’s 12 first-half points set a record for the fewest in Smith Center history. N.C. State, which scored 13 points in the first half of a defeat here in 2008, held the previous record.

The Tar Heels used effective defense to extend their lead in the first half, and the Buccaneers didn’t help their cause with an array of missed shots, turnovers and poor offensive execution. They were without their starting point guard, and because of suspensions and dismissals they brought just seven scholarship players into the Smith Center.

At times, the Buccaneers had difficulty simply dribbling past midcourt.

“You kind of feel bad for them,” McAdoo said. “But at the end of the day they don’t want you to take it easy on them.”

So the Tar Heels didn’t. At least for a half.

UNC during the first 20 minutes did what good teams should do against inferior competition: The Tar Heels took control early, continued to extend their lead and never allowed the Buccaneers any hope.

Along the way, coach Roy Williams experimented with different lineups and substitution patterns, and twice during the first half inserted a completely set of new players into the game. He said later he wanted to allow Joel James and Brice Johnson, the Tar Heels’ freshmen forwards, an opportunity to gain experience.

Williams liked most everything about the first half, especially what his team did defensively. The second half, though, caused him some grief.

“I don’t like to say this, but we couldn’t maintain that same type of intensity in the second half,” Williams said. “And I wish we could, but we didn’t. We missed so many shots. And the strange thing is, we didn’t practice very much this week – we spent a lot of time shooting. And maybe we spent too much time shooting.”

UNC shot 42.5 percent from the field, and the Heels missed 20 of their 31 3-point attempts. They were sloppy offensively and defensively during the second half, when they made the kinds of mistakes that could result in defeat against better competition.

Not that UNC had to worry about losing on Saturday. Leslie McDonald came off the bench to lead the Heels with 14 points while Johnson finished with 12 points in 15 minutes. The Heels were effective against the Buccaneers’ zone defense, but Williams criticized his team for settling for too many perimeter shots.

UNC attempted 32 shots in the paint – just one more than it attempted from behind the 3-point line.

“Just because the other team plays zone does not mean we have to shoot the outside shot,” Williams said. “We are a good shooting team, I’m convinced of that, but we didn’t make a bunch of them tonight.

“We do have to have better balance.”

The Heels had assists on 30 of their 31 field goals, a stat that both pleased and displeased Williams at once. The assists reflected UNC’s sound ball movement, but Williams said that if a team has 30 assists, “You’re going to score 110, 120 points.”

The Tar Heels didn’t come close to that, though, amid an ugly second half. ETSU outscored UNC 43-36 through the final 20 minutes, and the Buccaneers needed about seven minutes to surpass the 12 points they scored during the first half.

The final numbers didn’t matter to Williams so much as the experience his team gained during a lopsided, dominant victory that he described as “weird.” No UNC player received more than 23 minutes of playing time, and 11 Tar Heels played for at least 10 minutes.

There were plenty of highlights along the way: several crowd-pleasing alley-oops, a one-handed dunk from freshman J.P. Tokoto with about five minutes to play and another strong performance from McDonald, who made four of his eight 3-point attempts.

“He’s being more aggressive,” Reggie Bullock, the junior guard, said of McDonald. “He’s taking open shots. He’s shooting the ball extremely well from the outside. He’s just doing whatever he can to be able to help this team succeed and he’s shooting the ball extremely well.”

McDonald was one of the few who did on Saturday. Not that it mattered against an opponent that provided few challenges.

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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