For Christmas this year, the Tar Heels apparently asked for a shooting touch. And Leslie McDonald at least got one in his stocking – he went 4 of 7 from behind the arc, on his way to 14 points. The rest of the the team was a mixed mag, but they ran the transition game well, shot almost 47% from the field, and was never in any danger of losing, en route to a 23-point victory.
Roy Williams appeared to use this game to allow players to get comfortable with one another over long stretches. He often subbed in four or five players at a time, and basically played two teams: the starting lineup of Drew, Strickland, Zeller, Henson and Barnes, and the second squad of Marshall, McDonald, Bullock, Knox and Watts. The second team seemed particularly strong, and almost matched the first team's point total, scoring 36 to their 40. It's hard to judge how well to take this, as the opponent was Rutgers. Still, the Scarlet Knights were contesting most of the shots, and they still fell. UNC also dominated the boards, and had 13 assists and 11 steals. There was good, quick ball movement and the backcourt was strong, not letting Rutgers just collapse on the big men.
The bad part of play are the same things we've seen all season. Their were too many turnovers and the free throw shooting was abysmal. Some of the former can be attributed to experimentation with a big lead, but there were a lot of ill-advised dribble-penetrations that ended with the ball hurtling in the opposite direction and some plays were all thought appeared to go out the window. Rutgers couldn't capitalize on those mistakes, being unfamiliar as they were with how fast the Heels can move even getting back on defense, and the Knights' own shooting was horrible. Not all of that was the result of Carolina's defense, as Rutgers missed some wide open shots, but a good deal was. This was a team obviously not used to playing a group of UNC's talent, or height; the seemed outclassed from the start and only occasionally made the argument that they belonged on the same court as Carolina.
So it was a decent win all around, and a nice introduction to the rough style of Big East play the Heels may face in the postseason. (Tyler Zeller in particular bore the brunt of a lot of unobserved elbows, and didn't seem very happy about it.) With one game left before the conference season, and that against a school so bad I hesitate to consider it anything but a scrimmage, this was a good way to build confidence in a steadily improving team. I'm not sold that they'll excel right off the bat in January, but I don't see a repeat of last season's swan dive either. Things are coming along nicely.