That was a little tougher than I expected to go along with the variety of issues I saw with the Heels tonight. Prior to my delving into the things that had me ready to throw objects about my living room let me just say:
Finishing the freaking game when it was close.
Let me first say I am big enough to admit when I have been a little hard on someone. Wayne Ellington was exactly what most Tar Heels fans have been expecting. And yes, I know it is only one game but Ellington played a great game. His shot selection was much better and we saw a lot of that trademark smooth shooting stroke folks have told us time and time again he has. Ellington ended up with 20 points on 8-13 shooting and hit some much needed baskets down the stretch. With UNC trailing 59-56 Ellington nails a three to tie the game then proceeded to hit three of four free throws to keep UNC ahead. When Davidson close to within one at 1:22 left it was Ellington who hit a jumper to extend the lead back to three. Given all the talk we have heard in the preseason about Ellington wanting to his the big shot in games, he delivered tonight and hopefully can continue to do so.
Danny Green was huge in this game and while I knew he could be a contributor, his level of play was the life jacket that kept the Heels afloat midway through the second half. UNC had blown a seven point halftime lead and was struggling to find an offense when Green reeled off eight points and three rebounds in three minute span. There is no underestimating how key his play was in this game since UNC was down 50-46 before Green hit a three and on the next trip down grabbed an offensive board and proceeded to complete a three point play to put UNC up two. Green ended up with 11 points and six rebounds but the eight and three that came during that stretch made the biggest difference.
The knock against UNC last season concerned their inability to close and a failure to handle those tough end game situations. This was a prime example of a game UNC would have lost last season because they either could not hit big shots or just plain failed to execute. That was not the case this evening. UNC had four possessions nursing a small lead and three times they scored by executing the offense. One came off a Ty Lawson drive to the basket, another off an Ellington jumper and the last one,which extended the lead to five, was a smart pass from Tyler Hansbrough to Marcus Ginyard after Hansbrough dribble out to the perimeter away from a double team opening up the middle for a cutting Ginyard. UNC went 4-6 from the line to close the game.
Other positives include the defensive effort which I thought was pretty good. Davidson shot a paltry 38% from the floor and despite the fact Stephen Curry had 24 points it came on 8-22 shooting and he had some pretty bad looks at time with Ginyard guarding him. I also thought that when the situation called for it, UNC is capable of laying down some intensive defensive energy and really pressure the ball handler. Lawson, for one, gave the Davidson PG Jason Richards fits at points during the second half and UNC forced Davidson out of offensive rhythm in the halfcourt set. The offense in this game revolved around Ellington and Hansbrough with the big points from Green in the second half. Hansbrough had 14 points and 14 rebounds but was out for a long stretch in the second half because of foul trouble.
As for the negatives, the game was very up and down for UNC. The Heels were extremely sloppy early on turning the ball over and being a little haphazard with the way they ran the offense until three minutes left in the half when they had a 12-3 run that took a two point deficit to a seven point halftime lead. All things considered UNC pulled it together nicely following some bad episodes during the half. Another knock on UNC last season was they tended to come out in the second half and struggle. This game actually followed that blueprint to the point that Hansbrough got chippy with Davidson's Andrew Lovedale and received a technical foul for his trouble. From that point on UNC lost focus and did not seem to regain their footing until inside of ten minutes. Turnovers were a huge issue mainly because some of them were careless. Bobby Frasor and Lawson both got called for stepping on the sideline. There were several offensive fouls giving the ball back to Davidson and UNC generally did not do a great job of taking care of business on their end of the court. Some of that had to do with Lawson being out with foul trouble as well as the fact Roy seemed to be experimenting with a variety of combinations on the court.
The other individual performances were a mixed bag. Deon Thompson was largely ineffective totaling four points and zero rebounds. Thompson also received double teams every time he touched the ball and had a great deal of trouble passing out of it. The expectation levels for Thompson are pretty high given the shoe he is filling and I think he will do better as the season progresses. Alex Stepheson did not have a great game and Marcus Ginyard grabbed seven rebounds and chased Curry all night. Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas were solid filling in for Lawson and there were several instances where Frasor played at the two alongside Thomas. This was one of several different lineup combinations we saw. I had wondered leading up this game if there was ever a temptation for Roy to go either big or small with lineup. The answer tonight was he is willing to go small with Green, Ginyard, Lawson and Ellington on the court at the same time with one of the big men in the middle.
My overall impression is this was a good win mainly because of the toughness aspects and the late game execution. The early foul trouble for Lawson and the second half technical foul on Hansbrough followed by his foul trouble were huge monkey wrenches in the works that threw enough things out of sync to give UNC trouble. The point we get coming out of that is this team was able to figure it out and work through the mess to win the game. That could be the key difference from last season to this one is the ability to handle adversity and make good decisions with the game on the line. While it is only one game, I think it was a good start and the lessons picked up in this one will serve the team well going forward.