Coming off a choppy and uneven performance in the opening win against NC Central on Friday, UNC asserted itself early then put the hammer down in the second half to take a resounding 103-59 win over Robert Morris.
UNC's success in this game was fueled primarily by the play of the two starting post players, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. Meeks got his double-double night started early with a quick seven points in the opening three-and-half minutes to help stake the Heels to a 12-0 lead. From there, the Heels maintained a 10-14 point advantage with the only lapse coming when Roy Williams had rotated all the starters from the game. A lineup of Nate Britt, Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, Isaiah Hicks and Desmond Hubert struggled to execute offensively and on the defensive end gave up six straight points. Williams opted for a line change to bring the starters back in and reassert control of the game.
UNC's offense for much of the game was predicated on feeding the big men. Meeks got off to a hot start and had 15 points and 7 rebounds midway through the first half before two quick fouls sent him to the bench. Brice Johnson immediately picked up the slack. Johnson started the game 1-6 from the floor before going on to hit nine straight shots, one of those a coast-to-coast basket following a Colonial missed shot. Johnson ended up as UNC's leading scorer with 23 points and eight rebounds. Meeks tallied 21 points and grabbed 12 boards.
Robert Morris opted to use a "four out" zone(for lack of a better term) with four players standing just behind the three point line and a post player around the basket. The Tar Heels had little trouble penetrating the zone and some consistent high-low action between Johnson and Meeks led to plenty of open looks for both players since the opposing post player was often caught in a two-on-one situation. J.P. Tokoto also took advantage of gaps in the zone to rack up a career high ten assists and UNC's first double digit assist game since Marcus Paige's ten assists against Florida State during the 2013 ACC Tournament. Freshman Justin Jackson reached double digits for the first time as a Tar Heel, scoring 13 points and again showing savvy beyond his years on the court.
Heading into this season, UNC needed to find offensive production outside of Marcus Paige to be successful. While the normal caliber of opponent caveats apply, this type of game was a great example of what that could look like. UNC got 44 points and 20 rebounds from the starting big men. Early in the second half UNC extended an 18 point halftime lead to 31 on the strength of a 16-3 run. Paige had ten points in that stretch including a pair of threes to finish with 15 points and three assists.
The only real complaint is the three point shooting, aside from Paige, hasn't quite materialized. UNC was 4-16 from three with Joel Berry collecting the only non-Paige three pointer. Berry's three put the Heels over the century mark. UNC's free throw shooting continues to show improvement over last season. The Heels were 27-36 from the line or 75%. Of note was Kennedy Meeks hitting 9-14 and J.P. Tokoto going 3-4. UNC also showed a fairly high degree of unselfishness with 29 assists on 36 made baskets.
Now that UNC has gotten its feet wet with a 2-0 start to the season, the Heels will face the always tough Davidson Wildcats next Saturday in Charlotte. UNC then heads to the Bahamas where the Tar Heels will face a three day test that includes two potential games against ranked teams.