Roy Williams following win over UNC Pembroke
North Carolina had just won an exhibition game by 61 points and made 65.7 percent of its shots and passed with such effectiveness that 75 percent of the shots it made came on the other end of an assist. And yet, maybe predictably, that wasn't the number that drew Roy Williams' attention.
No, Williams, the Tar Heels' coach, focused on another figure in the box score in the moments after his team's 124-63 victory against UNC Pembroke on Friday night in an exhibition game at the Smith Center. The number was 30 – UNC-Pembroke's offensive rebounds.
“Steve said it's the most offensive rebounds we've given up in 14 years,” Williams said, referring to Steve Kirschner, the team's sports information director who often supplies Williams with postgame statistical context.
Indeed, it had been that long since the Tar Heels surrendered more offensive rebounds in a game that counted. This game on Friday night did not count, and so that barometer of defensive rebounding futility remains unaffected. Not that it mattered to Williams.
Amid a performance in which it was difficult to identify weakness, he found one with his team's inability, at times, to keep UNC Pembroke from corralling its own shots. There were a lot of them.
The Braves – that's Division II UNC Pembroke's mascot – attempted 95 shots from the field. They missed 70 of those, creating ample rebounding opportunity.
“There's going to be more opportunities,” Williams said of all of those misses, “but we didn't do as good of a job at boxing out.”
The Tar Heels did a good job elsewhere. This was supposed to be an easy, resistance-free sort of affair, and that it was. UNC scored its 100th point with more than seven minutes remaining. Six players, led by junior guard Joel Berry (20 points) scored in double figures.
The freshmen trio of Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods played well, and played with confidence. Those three combined for 24 points and 13 rebounds and the 6-foot-10 Bradley, who figures to play a prominent role in the front court, finished with nine points and eight rebounds.
UNC often made it look easy, and with good reason: It was. The Tar Heels will enter the season ranked sixth nationally. UNC Pembroke was picked sixth in the Peach Belt Conference preseason poll.
“I mean, we could do pretty much whatever we wanted to,” said Justin Jackson, the UNC junior forward who finished with 16 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
Jackson was explaining how difficult it was to conclude much of anything from a game like this. Williams did what he wanted, too, with his rotations. In the first half, he mostly used two distinct five-man groups: the starters and then a lineup consisting of the three freshmen and sophomores Luke Maye and Kenny Williams.
Williams the player made two 3-pointers and finished with 10 points. He scored 23 all of last season. He said he'd found comfort and that whatever improvement he has made is “more mental than physical for me.”
And yet amid all the good, Williams the coach saw all those defensive rebounds go the other way. And he saw some players huffing, too, winded and unable to keep up. Later, Jackson said that nobody told Williams they were winded. Williams received word through their body language.
“They told me they could ever tell a coach: they weren't in shape,” Williams said. “And that's the worst dadgum thing. You've got to be dumb to tell a coach that. So we had a whole team full of dumb guys tonight. So we're going to run our butts off tomorrow.”
Informed of Williams' words, Jackson shook his head and smiled. Williams sounded like he was in mid-season form, and now it was his job to get his players there, too. The start of the regular season, at Tulane next Friday night, grew closer.