Needless to say this game served its purpose.
With ACC play starting on Wednesday, the Tar Heels needed a game to tune up for the league slate and to run Marcus Paige though the ringer to ensure his ankle is back in good working order. UNC did both rather well with a mostly dominant performance against UNC Greensboro. Paige answered the bell early hitting 5-of-8 shots in the first half on his way to 11 points despite just playing 11 minutes. Justin Jackson was also productive hitting 5-of-7 shots for 10 points as the Tar Heels raced out to a 19 point halftime lead.
What was impressive about UNC's first half was the Tar Heels did it without much from Brice Johnson on the offensive end. Johnson had just four points on 2-of-3 shooting but did grab eight rebounds, all of them defensive. Joel Berry also had a rough go early in the game committing two fouls, two turnovers and shooting 1-for-4.
Like most games of this nature, the early portions of the second half saw UNC give some of the lead back. UNCG started the game 0-8 from three started draining them, including 3-of-4 to open the second half. The Spartans ultimately cut the Tar Heel lead to as little as 11 with 11:01 left in the game. UNC's offense had still been efficient but the defense had multiple lapses resulting in a small Spartan run to close the gap.
To this point, Roy Williams had experimented heavily with the lineup thanks in part to his attempting to limit Paige to 24 minutes and the continued absence of Kennedy Meeks. With 9:45 left and UNC up 66-53, Paige, Jackson and Berry entered the game alongside Isaiah Hicks and Brice Johnson. That lineup reestablished UNC's dominance extending the lead to 18 when Paige exited for good at 6:07. UNC closed the game in a 30-10 run over the final almost ten minutes for a tidy 96-63 win.
Johnson responded in the second half with 12 points and matched his first half rebounding total to lead UNC with 16 points and 16 rebounds.. He was one of six Tar Heels in double figures with Theo Pinson just on the cusp of that mark with 8 points. Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige had 14 apiece while Joel Berry bounced back from his poor start for 11 points and two made three pointers. Isaiah Hicks continues to excel with 13 points off the bench while Nate Britt posted 11 points and dished out five assists.
According to KenPom, UNC's offensive efficiency was 139.5, the sixth straight game with an OE of 120 or better. UNC leads the nation in offensive efficiency at 119.4, the highest rating since the 2009 team's 122.4. The defensive end continues to be a concern with UNCG able to shoot over 50% in the second half. UNC's offense is good enough most nights to compensate for the defensive issues but if the Tar Heels have any designs on a national title, the team needs to guard the ball better.
UNC finishes the non-conference slate 11-2. Given one loss was without Paige and the other with Meeks struggling with a bone bruise, you can argue the Tar Heels are right where they should be, even accounting for the injuries. Getting the whole team healthy and grabbing a good start to ACC play are what's next for this team. The former might still be a week or so away but in the meantime, UNC will look to open ACC play 2-0 at home this week.