The Tar Heels opened the season in somewhat impressive fashion running out to a 58-21 halftime lead before coasting to a 84-61 win over Oakland. Given all the upheaval during the preseason leading to Marcus Paige moving to two, J.P. Tokoto starting at the three and freshman Nate Britt running the point, the Tar Heels put an a clinic in the first half beating the Golden Grizzilies in every aspect of the game.
By far the most impressive player, relatively speaking, was Tokoto. The sophomore played well in his first career start tallying 13 points, four assists and three steals in the opening half. Two of those assists came on alley-oop passes to James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson. Paige matched his career high for threes made, all in the first half, going 4-6 from beyond the arc. It was McAdoo however who carried the offense with 15 first half points(nine of the teams first 12) scoring in a variety of ways from short jumpers to drives in the lane. McAdoo, in general, is noticeably quicker this season and his play was markedly better of last season. He said after the game "he felt good" now that he was 100% healthy after struggling with a back injury last season. Overall the first half execution was crisp, UNC got great ball movement, particularly from Kennedy Meeks who showcased his much touted passing skills kicking it out of the post leading to a pair of Paige three pointers.
The second half was a rather sloppy affair and bore some resemblance to the second half against UNC Pembroke the week before. The offensive execution and efficiency disappeared. The Tar Heels had issues with bad passes committing 11 of their 18 turnovers for the game in the second half. The shots also stopped falling and Oakland got into an offensive groove of sorts ultimately winning the half by 14. Oakland played zone for most of the game and UNC appeared to struggle with it more in the second half than the first.Tokoto noted after the game the poor second half play stemmed from poor spacing and forcing passes which led to turnovers.
For the game, McAdoo led five Tar Heels in double figures with 21 points and also had nine rebounds. Paige had 14 points and five assists and Tokoto also dished out five assists to go with his 13 points. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson each chipped in 10 points and 5 rebounds. Likewise Isaiah Hicks also had five boards in 11 minutes of play. Joel James started both halves at center and while his offensive game is still a little raw, James pulled down eight rebounds.
Overall this was a solid team effort. UNC had 25 assists on 33 made field goals. Most notably 15 of those assists came from players at the three through five positions on the floor. The Heels were 5-13 from three but 0-4 in the second half with four of those coming from Paige. The Tar Heels cooled off from a blistering 74.2% shooting effort in the first half(a record for any half in the Roy Williams era) to finish the game at 60% from the floor.
As first impressions go, this was a good one. The usual caveats apply given the caliber of the opposition. However, the play of Tokoto and Paige at their respective positions is encouraging. There will be an issue with depth and the quality of it as long as P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are out as illustrated by Luke Davis getting 20 minutes of playing time. And Roy Williams expressed some displeasure with the fact Paige played 32 minutes. Williams typically tries to avoid that type of playing time until conference play when the games matter more.
UNC returns to action next Friday night against Holy Cross when perhaps there will have been some resolution of the NCAA issues surrounding Hairston and McDonald. Even if there is, the current thinking is neither will play meaning the team will continue to play with this lineup.