UNC avoids letdown in dominant 81-50 victory against UNC Greensboro

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 7, 2013 

— North Carolina has been a difficult-to-figure team during the first month of a season – a team that has twice followed dramatic, disappointing defeats with euphoric victories against top-5 opponents. For once, though, there was no drama for the Tar Heels on Saturday – just a decisive, dominating victory at the Smith Center.

After a somewhat sluggish start on Saturday night, UNC closed the first half with a commanding run that ignited its 81-50 victory against UNC Greensboro. The victory came three days after UNC’s triumph at No. 1 Michigan State, and the Tar Heels on Saturday provided a clear answer to any question about whether there’d be a letdown.

Roy Williams, the UNC coach, acknowledged on Saturday night that he was worried about such a thing. After all, after his team defeated then-No. 3 Louisville, it lost its next game, at UAB. That was on Williams’ mind when he addressed his players before the game on Saturday.

“I was worried some, because we have a big win (against) Louisville, and then we don’t play nearly as well with the activity in the next game,” Williams said. “And so that’s basically what we talked about, was great intensity. I didn’t talk about winning or scoring or anything.

“I just talked about having better concentration and more intensity and I think we did that in the first half.”

The Spartans, coached by former UNC player Wes Miller, kept it close for a while, and trailed just 15-11 with nine minutes and 41 seconds to play. From there, though, the Tar Heels (6-2) outscored the Spartans (4-5) 29-3 during the rest of the half, and led 44-14 at halftime.

During that stretch, UNC could do little wrong, and the Spartans little right. At times, they simply had difficulty advancing the ball past half court.

UNCG finished with the first half with 15 turnovers, and 10 of those came during UNC’s 29-3 run. The Spartans’ turnovers came on a variety of ways – through offensive fouls and dribbling miscues. Through poor passes that led to steals and easy transition baskets.

The Tar Heels turned those 15 first-half turnovers into 20 points, and by halftime they had outscored the Spartans 20-2 in points off of turnovers. When UNCG wasn’t committing turnovers during the first 20 minutes, chances were good that it was missing shots.

The Spartans made just six of their 21 field goal attempts before halftime. UNC, meanwhile, attempted 15 more shots in the first half, and shot 47.2 percent. The first half went so well for the Tar Heels that the second half had little bearing on the outcome. It was exactly the kind of half UNC sought after the Michigan State victory.

“There’s been talk about how we can’t beat the UABs and the Belmonts, but we can beat the Louisvilles and the Michigan States,” said J.P. Tokoto, a sophomore forward who finished with six points on Saturday. “I mean, our record shows it, our play shows it. So we’ve just got to prove to everybody now that we are a consistent team.”

UNC, led by 14 points from sophomore forward Brice Johnson, never led by less than 21 points during the final 20 minutes. For the second consecutive game, five Tar Heels scored in double figures, including James Michael McAdoo, the junior forward.

McAdoo had scored in single digits during his past four games – his longest double-figure scoring drought since his freshman season – but he finished with 13 points on Saturday night. Marcus Paige, the sophomore guard, and Kennedy Meeks, the freshman center, scored 12 points apiece.

Meeks, a former standout at West Charlotte High in Charlotte, also had eight rebounds and showed off a nice midrange jump shot. He said that has been a part of his arsenal since his high school days.

“They were backing up, sagging off today,” Meeks said. “So I figured I’d shoot it.”

The victory on Saturday was UNC’s easiest since its 23-point win against Oakland in the season-opener on Nov. 8. Since then, the Tar Heels have been among the most unpredictable teams in the nation – if not the most.

There was the narrow, close victory against Holy Cross, followed by a home loss against Belmont, followed by the victory against Louisville, followed by a defeat a week ago at UAB – a loss that had Williams questioning his team’s effort and toughness.

And then, naturally, the Tar Heels responded to that with a victory at No. 1 Michigan State on Wednesday night. The game against UNC Greensboro was the only one standing between the Tar Heels and their date at the Smith Center with No. 3 Kentucky next Saturday.

There was no looking ahead, though, for UNC – and no looking back, either, and resting on recent accomplishments.

“(We were) just more focused this time,” Johnson, the sophomore forward, said of the difference between Saturday and the loss at UAB. “It seemed like we weren’t focused after the Louisville game, probably. But we were more focused coming out this game. We were like, ‘We can’t keep doing that – we’ve got to play up to our standards.’”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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