Positives and Negatives: Despite Struggles, UNC Tar Heels Beat Shaw Bears 81-54
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That wasn't an easy escape for the Tar Heels in their first and only exhibition.
UNC struggled shooting in the first half, and Shaw was able to hang with their fast tempo. North Carolina was hanging on to a 37-33 lead at the half, and even I was beginning to question this team's future.
Then the second half came.
Roy Williams must have gone against his doctor's orders and lit a fire under their backside in the locker room. It was a different team that hit the floor when they came out.
Their defense played pretty well all night, but they came out relentless in the second half. Steals, blocks, rebounds—they were doing it all. Most importantly, shots started to drop on the other end, too.
It's all about rhythm for North Carolina. Once they start running the floor and getting those transition dunks, everything just starts to click.
Ten minutes into the second half and it was hardly even a game anymore.
Carolina went on to win 81-54.
By the looks of the score, one would think there weren't a lot of negatives to speak of. That was not the case, and I have a few bones to pick in the first edition of my game-by-game series: "Positives and Negatives."
Reggie Bullock had a bad night shooting.
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Oh, yes. Their greatest nemesis from the 2011-12 season was back and in full form. If it weren't for this article, I would've kept my eyes closed in the first half.
UNC shot only 38.8 percent in the first half, knocking down only 14-of-36 attempts. They had plenty of opportunity to open it up, but nothing seemed to fall.
Marcus Paige, Reggie Bullock and P. J. Hairston seemed to be the ones struggling the most in the first half. Hairston and Paige got their mojo back in the second half, but Bullock never did hit a jump shot—just a lot of rim.
Bullock's only score was a dunk off a fast break. He was also 0-for-3 beyond the arc. That's very unusual, and quite disappointing.
The team's three-point shooting wasn't unusual, which was also quite disappointing. The Tar Heels finished 3-of-16 from downtown—that's 18.8 percent. That sounds more like the unemployment rate than a shooting percentage.
It was just plain ugly.
Hairston and McDonald were the only ones to score from that distance. Hairston finished 2-of-5 and McDonald was 1-of-2 from bonus land.
Speaking of ugly, let's talk about free throws for a minute.
Joel James could've led the team in points if he made more free throws. He ended the night making 1-of-6 from the charity stripe. He'll be there a lot this year, so he really needs to start sinking them.
The good news is that he isn't as poor a free-throw shooter as he looked.
Better news for James was that Desmond Hubert was 0-for-3 from the line, too. At least Roy won't sit James because of free throws yet.
Rounding out the goose eggs was Strickland (0-for-1) and Bullock (0-2).
I must say, the rest of the team shot well. Luke Davis, Marcus Paige, James Michael McAdoo, and Jackson Simmons were all perfect from the line. Leslie McDonald was 5-of-6.
Those players combined to go 13-of-14 from the line. I'm definitely satisfied with that.
Oops. Was that a positive?
Is anyone else having deja vu yet?
Overall the defense looked great, but they kept missing switches and leaving open threes for Shaw. Fortunately, the Bears weren't knocking them down either.
This is something you get with a Roy Williams defense. They are taught to gamble, so they can get the steals that lead to fast breaks. Occasionally that will get them burned on the outside.
That's something the Tar Heels can live with if they are making their own shots. When they aren't—like last night—it becomes a real problem.
Joel James brought his game
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As I said before, Paige started off really slow and perhaps was a little nervous in his first start. He wasn't shooting well, he didn't penetrate, and he just never had the command of the offense in the first half.
He ended the game with six points, one assist and three turnovers. While those numbers look awful, the lack of assists was due in part to the poor shooting of the team.
Paige truly did run the show a lot more effectively in the second half. He also contributed six rebounds, which is huge from his position. He seemed to just have a knack for finding the ball.
J.P. Tokoto didn't put up a lot of numbers, but his game looked promising too.
He finished with just two points, but he also had five rebounds in his limited minutes. His ups will probably be the best on the floor at all times. It's crazy how effortless it looks.
Tokoto is just a great athlete, which helps him a lot in recovering on defense. Now he just needs to get to the point where he doesn't have to recover as much. That will come with experience.
He also needs some work on his jump shots, but it was kind of a "join the crowd" situation last night. That is one of his weaknesses coming in, though. That will be something to keep an eye on down the road.
If it weren't for Joel James, I would have to go with Brice Johnson as the most impressive freshman. I will say he was the most surprising—at least for me.
From the moment he jumped in, he was owning the game. The Tar Heels were actually down before Johnson started a run with his turnaround jumper and an authoritative put-back jam.
I thought it was Tokoto up there in the sky for a minute.
Johnson finished with eight points and six rebounds. His motor never slowed down, and he never did a disappearing act. When he was in the game, you knew it.
The same can be said of Joel James. He was just a monster, and certainly looked like he belonged in the starting lineup.
What everyone considered his weakness was his strength last night. He dropped a left hook, some jumpers and even displayed a nice spin move in the low post.
He also had the "don't come in my house" attitude I expected on defense.
James is just a bruiser. He even took a hard landing straight on his back. He sat laid there for a second to regain his composure and popped right back up like nothing happened.
A normal human being probably would've headed to the sideline, clutching his back. But James is not human. Check his DNA.
By no means is Joel James a finished product, but between the scrimmage and the exhibition, he seems a lot closer than we previously thought.
Wait until next season when these guys have more experience and are possibly starting together. That's going to be a show.
We already talked about Paige, so I'll move straight to Dexter Strickland and Luke Davis.
Strickland played the point a little better than he has in the past. His offseason studying seems to have paid off. The offense rolled pretty well with him in there, but his defense also increased the tempo.
In reality, he plays the two about the same as the one, so it really doesn't matter which position he plays.
Luke Davis was a welcome surprise. He's a tough player and the only point guard on the squad that can really get down and physical.
He just isn't as dynamic as the other two.
Davis finished with just two points and two assists, but he showed he can penetrate, run the offense efficiently and play some pretty tight defense. I'd like to see a little more playing time out of him.
We'll have to see how Roy works out that situation.
The Post is Alive
James Michael McAdoo looked really good last night. He seemed to be much more comfortable in the post than last year. I could actually see the difference in his game, unlike the scrimmage.
For a while he was making his shots, but he did seem to taper off as the game went on.
He led the team in scoring and rebounding, putting up 16 points and eight boards. Four of those points came from his typical steal and dunk.
Desmond Hubert looked like he stepped up his game, too. But he did seem to disappear, and wasn't nearly as effective as James.
When James and McAdoo were together, they seemed to own the paint. It became even more obvious as the game went on.
The Tar Heels played pretty good defense the first half, but it became complete chaos for Shaw in the second half. I couldn't keep track of all the steals, blocks and rebounds that started a fast break.
Aside from the switching issues I mentioned in the "Negatives," this defense was owning the floor.
As much as Roy was switching them in and out, it was hard to tell which lineup was the most effective. But what I learned is you can't go wrong with just about any lineup.
These guys were everything I expected them to be on defense. Athleticism kills in this system.
I kind of expected fast breaks to look a little sloppy with the new guys in there, but that simply wasn't the case.
When McAdoo wasn't taking it coast-to-coast himself, Johnson and Tokoto proved to be perfectly capable of pushing it up the floor with the speed required by Roy Williams.
James even pulled a Tyler Zeller and was down the floor all alone for a dunk. He can move for a big man.
The passing was incredible, too. It was as if everyone could jump in and play point. When there are two or three passes after passing half court, that's team play.
And it was also very smart in these situations. Don't take a bad shot and don't get yourself hurt—hit the open man if there is one.
That's what they did, and they did it very effectively.
Roy has a few things to smile about.
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Thanks to the second half, I feel pretty good about this squad.
Consistency and shooting were the most glaring issues of the night. Will that be something that continues?
I really don't think it will. Reggie Bullock and Marcus Paige are rarely going to shoot that bad. James will be better at the free-throw line than he was last night.
One thing that also has to be put into consideration was how much Roy subbed.
It seemed every time UNC went on a run in the first half, Shaw would call a timeout and Roy would sub two or three guys. It's tough to get in a rhythm when you're in for just a few minutes at a time.
That's what you get in the first exhibition, though. It's what Roy had to do to get a feel for all his players in a real game situation. So I have no problem with how that went down.
We just shouldn't go too far in negatively gauging the players with this game because of that.
Now Roy Williams and the Tar Heels have two weeks of practice and a "secret" scrimmage against Georgetown before the season officially begins against Gardner-Webb.
Shh. Don't tell anyone.
Who announces a secret? Why not make it a "private" scrimmage? I digress.
There was a lot of good that came out of this game, mixed with occasional disappointment. Hopefully those kinks will be worked out in the coming weeks, and Coach Williams will be able to sort out this crazy lineup.
Again, the first half was a little scary for me. But 10 chewed fingernails later, things are looking up at Chapel Hill.