Although UNC had won comfortably in all 5 of their games to this point, there were some questions as to whether they could continue this domination against better teams. Against an Oklahoma State team generally regarded to be at least decent if not good, the Tar Heels put those questions to rest. They started fast and never looked back, putting in an absolutely dominating performance that resulted in a 107-75 win.
UNC jumped out to an early lead, getting offensive rebounds on every miss for the first 6 misses en route to a 16-4 lead early. The defensive intensity was just as strong, with no Cowboy other than star point guard Jawun Evans able to create any offense. Evans scored OKST’s first four points and 10 of their first 17, as the score was 30-17 at the under-8 minute mark. The Heels’ defensive rotations were consistently excellent, proved by players like Phil Forte and Jeffrey Carroll, both players who averaged more than 18 points a game at high field goal percentages, being held to 2 and 8 points respectively, and many, many missed shots.
The game was both physical and tightly, sometimes inscrutably, called. This resulted in many, many fouls, and both teams took advantage. Oklahoma State shot 17-23 and UNC shot 25-29 from the charity stripe. This combination of physicality and tight calling, especially with both teams’ propensity for getting to the line in the first place, meant that both teams were in the double bonus with more than 6 minutes left in the first half.
Justin Jackson was the team’s steadying hand, providing quick offense almost every time the Tar Heel offense showed signs of stagnation in the first half. He sparked a mini-run with an and-1 late in the first half and in doing so, became the first of six Heels in double figures. By the end of the first half, Joel Berry had joined him and the Heels led 51-38 after the requisite late three from Evans.
Coming out of the locker room, Jackson picked up right where he left off with four quick points. From there, Berry decided to make his presence known, hitting two three-pointers in a very short amount of time during a UNC 10-0 run that extended the lead to 67-42 going into the first TV timeout of the second half, and it looked like the game was ready to be blown wide open.
Jawun Evans, though, would not take this lying down, and in the next stretch, almost singlehandedly brought his team back to within 19 with a layup, a three-pointer, and a free throw after creating a UNC turnover. From that point, however, the Cowboys would never get closer, and the Heels continued dominating en route to the 30+ point win.
Berry ended up leading the Heels with 24 points on 7-10 shooting (4-6 beyond the arc, 6-6 at the line) and added 4 assists. Jackson had the kind of stat-stuffing game that Tar Heel fans desperately want to become the norm for him, putting in 22 points (7-12, 1-4, 7-7), 8 rebounds, and 6 assists with no turnovers. In addition to them, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, Tony Bradley, and Nate Britt all scored in double figures, and Kenny Williams chipped in 9 points on 3-4 shooting from deep. For the Cowboys, Jawun Evans scored 30 points on 13-25 shooting. His only teammate in double figures was Luke Waters, who had 10.
The game’s fouls, due to the nature of the game and the officiating, are probably not worth extrapolating from, but are still noteworthy. Hicks had 3 fouls in the first half, but returned to play in the second half and played well while not fouling for the entirety of the second half. Meeks fouled out late in the game on a questionable call, but by the eye test, his defense and rebounding looked both legal and good. Seventh Woods, however, struggled mightily. In only 7 minutes of play, most of which were spent against Jawun Evans, he fouled out without scoring, but not before putting 2 assists and a steal on his line of the stat sheet.
The Heels’ problem areas, if they can be called as such in a 32-point win, were the same areas that have been flawed for the entirety of the season: Turnovers and defensive rebounding. Hicks had particular trouble keeping hold of the ball, finishing with 4 of UNC’s 16 turnovers. The OKST backcourt ball pressure clearly affected the Heels in the first half, but the point guards started to figure it out in the second half, which was very encouraging. On the defensive boards, the Heels collected only 28 of 46 available defensive rebounds, which is a mediocre 61%. Despite this, however, the team looked like a well-oiled machine in their demolition of a solid team with a legitimate superstar at point guard.
Tar Heel fans had a scary moment in the second half when Kenny Williams and Evans appeared to hit their heads against one another. Evans stayed in the game, but Williams went to the locker room. He eventually was cleared to play, evidently not showing any signs of a concussion, and soon returned to the game.
The Heels await #16 Wisconsin on Wednesday night in the Maui Invitational winners’ final.