UNC gets a solid first half of play but sleepwalks through large portions of the second half on the way to a way closer than it should have been 93-87 win over East Carolina.
If you had asked me before the game how this game would go I would have thought the first half would have been ragged and the second half UNC would roll. The exact opposite happened. The Tar Heels played a nice first half. The offense was crisp except for getting the ball inside. The defense was good enough and it led to a 42-26 halftime lead.
The second half was just not good in almost every phase of the tame. ECU came out with much more intensity, got the free throw line frequently and outrebounded the Heels. The Heels did a lot of sleepwalking in the second half, woke up here and there to keep the lead in the 10 point range. Then towards the end things really got scary with UNC's inability to break the press and ECU bombing threes to close the lead within four with 26 seconds left. Ultimately the Heels managed to escape but I can only imagine what Roy WIlliams mood is going to be like in the next practice. If the timeout midway through the second half is any indication, not good. Granted there will be games like this and I can recall any number of efforts similar to this shown by better Tar Heel teams than this one. Which is to say, I am not sure this kind of game invites panic, especially given it was exam week but it certainly shows there is much to work on.
Of course the game was not a total loss in terms of positive aspects. James Michael McAdoo had a nice scoring game with 19 points but was only 5-14 doing so. He also continues to have problems handling the basketball and UNC's ability to run any semblance of a post offense is a bit alarming. Depending on three point shooting is fine but at some point the team has to be able to get offense out of the post players which it cannot seem to do consistently. Brice Johnson and Joel James were basically non-factors and there were heavy stretches of some of the smallest lineups UNC has ever used in the Roy Williams era. In fact not a single post player got an offensive rebound. That's not only bad but it's unprecedented since Williams came back to Chapel Hill.
The best part of this game was the play of P.J. Hairston who had 18 points on 6-10 shooting, hit two threes and most importantly was making a concerted effort to get to the basket. ESPNU commentator Jay Williams made the point that with Hairston's size and 220 lb frame he should use his athleticism to get into the lane. He shoots over 80% from the FT line so instead of settling for threes, Hairston needs to balance his offense. If he can show himself to be a threat to drive it only means more open looks. In this game, Hairston also made big baskets when UNC needed it and did all of his work in a scant 19 minutes of play.
Dexter Strickland had a double-double 12 points and 10 assists leading to the discussion of whether he should be been spending more time at PG now than Marcus Paige who wasn't bad with six points and four assists. In fact there is probably a raging debate on the message board right now about whether Strickland should run point with Hairston at the two. J.P. Tokoto had a nice game with 10 points and five rebounds plus stopping a 3-on-1 break by himself. Never mind he created said break with his own turnover, you have to like a guy who cleans up his own mess. Tokoto is a player I can't get a handle on. At times he looks like he has a nice grasp of the game but at times tries to do too much. This game he was very good with what he did given he only played nine minutes. And as we are accustomed to seeing, Reggie Bullock was solid with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists before fouling out.
This game ended up being closer than it should have been and should serve as a teachable moment going forward. There was plenty to like but the lack of second half focus is a concern. For now, it gets rolled into the early season development process with the hope it pays dividends down the road. Depending on how it is processed will be the difference between this being a red flag for a struggling season or just a bump in the road the team used to grow.