It was once again a slow start for #24 North Carolina (3-1) against Richmond (3-2), but in the end height and career highs by a pair of sophomore, got the Heels their third win of the season… as well as a likely showdown with a Top 5 program tomorrow. In some ways the game began in the same way it did when UNC and Belmont played, but this time the Heels did not give up their late lead, and even better, the team hit decently from the charity stripe.
The game, which is part of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament, began with the Richmond getting out to a 10-2 run. In the first 20 minutes the Spiders led by as much as nine points (17-8), but the squads went into half time with the Heels leading by three, 36 to 33. With some of the fans already jumping off the wagon because of the loss, playing against a pretty solid team, this was a game that North Carolina needed to win. The victory gives UNC a 15-2 edge over Richmond.
“Marcus and Brice certainly gave something we needed offensively because we’ve been struggling scoring wise,” Williams said. “We still made mistakes that gave me a lot of more gray hairs down the stretch. But hopefully we’ll learn some things and take those kind of plays and not make them anymore.”
Shooting guard Marcus Paige, who shifted from the point this season awaiting the two players still out, led Carolina with a career high 26 points on Saturday (18 coming from 6 of 9 from beyond the arc). And while he was aggressive for most of the game the biggest shot of the game for him was probably a 3 pointer with about 2 and a half minutes to play that gave the Heels a 71-62 lead. Basically sealing the game for head coach Roy Williams’ squad. Or maybe the biggest bucket for the second year player was a trifecta that broke a 56-56 tie with about eight minutes remaining.
“The coaches keep telling me I’ve got to be more aggressive and attack from the perimeter,” Paige said. “It’s just something I have to do. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with it.”
Coach Williams, who thinks that Paige not running the offense might be hurting his chances to score, said this of his second year man…
“I think he is a scorer,” Roy Williams said, “and we’ve got to do a better job screening for him and getting him the ball.”
Sophomore forward Brice Johnson came off the bench for a nice double double with a career high 22 points and a dozen boards, the final two of which came on a decisive dunk with time running out in the game. It was nice to have someone step up as junior forward James McAdoo did not have the same output as we have seen him have this young season, only scoring nine points to go along with four rebounds. A decent come back game came from sophomore J.P. Tokoto, who scored 10 points. In all the Heels had nine players with double digit minutes and nine scored in this game, even if only three in double digits.
“I’ve been doing that all season,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to do it. If that’s what they need me to do, I’m going to come off the bench and I’m going to bring it.”
In the first four games Paige and Johnson are the only two Heels to have scored in double digits in each of them. While, as a team, North Carolina has scored 80 or more points in three of the first four games this season.
After a small sample of the season, it is not unreasonable to say that when Johnson is in the game the squad is at its best when it comes to the center position. The sophomore gives the squad the most energy and while he is thin and a bit undersized, his work ethics make up for it. Look for the McAdoo/Johnson duo to be playing at the end of the game no matter who starts in the paint for the team.
If there is one thing that I can find to talk about in the not so good today, as I said in my preview, freshman Nate Britt will one day be a good point guard. And while all this playing time is going to help, the young man seems overpowered by the opponent and sometimes lost when the team is on offense. In this game Britt was in foul trouble very quickly as the opposing point guard used his basketball IQ to put the first year Heel into trouble.
As I said before, the free throw shooting was way up, as the squad hit over 70%. Hopefully this means that what happened a week ago was just a fluke and nothing more. The 6 for 13 from beyond the arc was probably something that everyone would like to see happen as the season progresses. That will probably be the case, but more so when both P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are back on the court. Until then it will be up to Paige, and maybe Tokoto, to let it fly from the trifecta.
Had this been a normal game many would say “a Top 25 team doing it job”. But this was not a normal game, after that loss to Belmont, and in many ways this is not a normal program, it’s one of the top historical ones. And that means each game is under the microscope as the finicky part of the fans base and some of the media will pick apart anything and everything from what the Heels do.
However, for now the only thing anyone can do is to what for tomorrow when the North Carolina will take on either #3 Louisville or Fairfield, with tip off being at 1:00 p.m. EST in the final of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament. If Carolina does face L’Ville it will be a touch match up, and if they were to lose, watch out web boards for global warming, as meltdowns will be imminent!