The No. 8-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels had talked about starting games faster and getting ahead of opponents earlier, rather than later.
It doomed them in two games this season and forced them to come up with late surges in others.
But that desire will have to wait another week, as the Tar Heels (11-2) used a late run at the end of the first half and big second-half performance to win 85-42 over Northern Iowa (5-6) Wednesday night.
Junior guard Joel Berry II, who was in his second game back from injury, finished with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Three of those makes came from 3-point range.
Senior forward Kennedy Meeks was effective down low and the game’s leading scorer. He was aggressive and got to the line early and often. Meeks finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds.
UNC coach Roy Williams said he thought Meeks was the difference in the game. After the game, Williams told Meeks he was proud of him.
“In the second half I thought he was the best player in the game for us today,” Williams said. “He’s got to have that attention and got to have that attention to detail and listen.”
The last time these two teams played, the Panthers beat the Tar Heels 71-67 on Nov. 21, 2015, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Tar Heels began it ranked No. 1 overall.
With the win, Williams is six wins away from 800 in his 29-year career as a head coach.
The first half between the two teams stayed close. The Tar Heels had opportunities to pull ahead early on but often missed open 3-pointers.
They were 1-for-8 from behind the arc in the first half.
Their biggest lead in the first half was eight points, after freshman guard Brandon Robinson hit two free throws to put the Tar Heels up 31-23. It also capped an 8-1 run.
The Tar Heels led 33-26 at halftime.
But after halftime it was clear which team was superior. While the Tar Heels continued to heat up, the Panthers cooled down.
The Panthers shot 26 percent in the second half, going 1-for-15 from 3.
“For us, good defense leads to some breaks, and I think that helps us,” Williams said.
The Tar Heels held the Panthers scoreless for more than seven minutes in the second half while they continued their run, and eventually found themselves up 21 points after a Nate Britt three made the score 53-32 with 9:32 remaining in the game.
“We always want to come out and get off on a team so they don’t have any confidence going through the rest of the game,” Berry said. “I think we’ve got to a do a better job on the defensive end and coming out with intensity on that side.”
The more the Tar Heels scored, the louder it got.
But no moment was louder than when senior forward Isaiah Hicks dunked on Northern Iowa’s Jordan Ashton, who tried to challenge the dunk.
Hicks said he didn’t expect the 6-foot-4 guard to try to challenge the shot.
“Then I realized, he really tried to block it,” he said. “I thought it was going to be one of those fake and get out the way.
After Hicks dunked it, he stared down Ashton and forced Northern Iowa to call a timeout. But by that time, it was over.
The Tar Heels started the second half on a 17-6 run, and by the end of the game, outscored the Panthers 52-16.
The Tar Heels will play one final nonconference game next week before conference play starts.
Junior guard Theo Pinson dressed out Wednesday, but a UNC spokesman said it was because he was tired of wearing a suit. Pinson had a CT scan on his foot earlier in the week that showed he was progressing, the spokesman said.