As far as first games after a week break with little practice prior to it goes, this went fairly well. UNC was a little rusty offensively but really ratcheted up the defensive pressure to knock off UAB 89-58.
The Tar Heels jumped out to a 15-2 lead early in the game fueled primarily by a healthy dose of Brice Johnson dunks and an acrobatic three point play from Justin Jackson. UAB turned the ball over at an alarming rate to go along with atrocious shooting to aid the Tar Heel run. In a game of this nature, Roy Williams will rotate bodies more often than normal and that rotation led to some offensive stagnation. UAB also deployed a zone and the Tar Heels didn't show the same level of execution they did a week ago against Ohio State settling for threes.
Part of UNC's middle of the first half offensive woes can be traced to another early poor shooting outing from Marcus Paige. The junior guard missed his first five shots and managed just two free throws as the Heels led 27-17 with 5:13 left in the half. Then came a rare three point barrage from the Tar Heels. Paige hit his first three of the game sandwiched between Jackson hitting a pair from beyond the arc. For Jackson it was the first time since UNC's win over Florida in the Bahamas he has hit a three. Jackson finished off the half with a tip-in of a Joel Berry miss at the buzzer to close out a 17-6 run and send the Heels into the locker room up 44-23.
The second half saw Paige finally get his shot to fall. Paige took a more aggressive approach by driving into the lane and hitting three floaters as a part of five straight made baskets for him. The Tar Heels got two made threes from Nate Britt and three pointers from Berry and Theo Pinson to finish 7-19 from beyond the arc. For the game the Heels shot 50% overall and 22-31 from the line. Six Tar Heels finished in double figures with Paige's 16 points, Meeks 14 points and nine rebounds and Jackson with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Nate Britt scored 11 points and Isaiah Hicks had 10 points off the bench.
As far as complaints go. UNC was still too turnover prone in the second half. Roy Williams owed that to a propensity to go for the sensational pass or play. The other issue which continues to rear its ugly head is fouling. UNC committed 14 fouls in the second half and ended the game with four players having committed three or more fouls. UAB leveraged those fouls to produce some manner of offense despite shooting just 28% from the floor and going 2-15 from three. In ACC play UNC will face several good defensive teams so cleaning up the turnovers will be crucial as will reducing the foul rate which is hampering what has been a stellar defense through 12 games.
One note on the Joel Berry playing with Marcus Paige watch. Near the end of the half and with about six minutes to go in the second half, UNC used the starting lineup except had Berry on the floor instead of Tokoto. In the second half configuration, Hicks game in for Johnson for a few possessions before Williams rotated players out in favor of Blue Team personnel. The use of Berry in those situations may signal Williams recognition of that lineup as the most effective, at least on offense.