It was the kind of first half for people who like floor burns and hustle, box-out bruises and loose-ball scrums. It was the kind of first half, then, that North Carolina coach Roy Williams could appreciate.
Williams had warned his players here on Tuesday that Oklahoma State, off to a fast start this season with three players who'd been averaging at least 18.5 points per game, would provide the Tar Heels with their most challenging test. Williams told his players, he said, that this was “the big leagues.”
The Tar Heels heeded those words and then provided perhaps their most complete, energized performance during their 107-75 victory against the Cowboys in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational here at the Lahaina Civic Center. For UNC it wasn't always smooth, pretty.
At times, the execution lacked, like during one turnover-prone stretch early in the first half. Yet the Tar Heels' intensity, their energy, remained constant in what began as a rout and ended much the same. The Tar Heels (6-0) led by double-digits for all but about five minutes of the first half.
Never miss a local story.
During those first 20 minutes, they dove for loose balls, fought for difficult-to-grasp rebounds. They fell on the floor, when necessary, and sprinted down it in other moments, either in pursuit of points or possession, or both.
If there was a single play that encapsulated the Tar Heels' effort, it might have come with about 75 seconds remaining before halftime. On the offensive end, UNC freshman forward Tony Bradley couldn't catch up to a long outlet pass, and he fell out of bounds trying.
He quickly recovered, found his footing and sprinted back to the other side of the court, where he arrived just in time to take possession of a wayward loose ball. And thus began another transition opportunity, one that ended with Bradley feeding Kennedy Meeks for an easy dunk.
The play gave the fourth-ranked Tar Heels a 49-33 lead. They led by 13, 51-38, at halftime.
Oklahoma State (4-1), which had won its first four games by an average of 25.5 points, didn't make it any more competitive during the second half. Less than five minutes into it, UNC's lead was 25; it grew to 30 with about 9 ½ minutes remaining.
The Tar Heels continued to thrive with the kind of energy plays Williams demands. And they were also sharp in their half-court offense, like when an inbounds play ended in an authoritative Isaiah Hicks dunk that gave UNC a 27-point lead with about 10 minutes to play.
Joel Berry, the junior guard who arrived in Maui coming off of a 1-for-9 shooting performance in a sloppy victory at Hawaii last Friday night, led the Tar Heels with 24 points. He was one of six UNC players who finished in double figures, including Justin Jackson, who finished with 22 points.
The Tar Heels advanced to play in the Maui Invitational championship game on Wednesday against No. 16 Wisconsin, which defeated Georgetown on Tuesday in the other semifinal. The UNC-Wisconsin game is a rematch of a 2015 NCAA tournament West regional semifinal.
The Badgers won then on their way to the national championship game, where they lost against Duke.
In the final minutes here on Tuesday night it was a matter of when, and not if, the Tar Heels would score their 100th point. Many of the UNC fans who'd made the trip to Maui began chanting “we want biscuits,” referencing a Chapel Hill-area fast food promotion that promises discounted biscuits when UNC scores 100 points.
The moment came with about 3 ½ minutes remaining, when Kenny Williams, the sophomore guard, made a 3-pointer. Those who'd been chanting for biscuits were appeased amid the Tar Heels' sharpest, most thoroughly dominant performance of the season.