North Carolina’s players filled the locker room with smiles Tuesday after getting revenge for last season’s embarrassing home loss to Wofford.
The Tar Heels’ 78-67 win over the Terriers in the season-opener didn’t come easy, however. The game was tied with 11 minutes left, before graduate forward Cam Johnson hit three 3s and Coby White hit one to help No. 8 UNC finish the game on a 24-16 run.
“I thought we did some good things at the end of the game, really pushed the lead,” said UNC senior forward Luke Maye, who had a game-high 24 points. “...But we’ve got a lot of things to improve, a lot things to work on. It was a good first step for us.”
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Here are three takeaways from UNC’s win over Wofford.
1. UNC doesn’t always have to go small
UNC coach Roy Williams said in October that he wants to play two big men on the floor at the same time this season. It’s his preferred style of play.
One of those big men is the 6-8, 240-pound Maye, but Williams needs one of his returning sophomores — Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, Walker Miller or Brandon Huffman — to step up, too.
Brooks, a 6-9, 230-pound forward, could be that player if he continues to play like he did against Wofford, where he scored 20, had five rebounds, including three on offense, and was 9-for-15 from the floor.
Brooks, who averaged 4.5 points per game last year, said he’s feeling more confident this season.
“It could be the beginning of something good,” Brooks said, “I’ve just got to keep going.”
Williams said he started Brooks because he has been the most dependable of the four sophomores.
Brooks played in the post against Wofford, allowing Maye to move around the floor, and play both inside and out. Maye hit a variety of shots, and had Brooks to help with offensive rebounds.
“I jumped on everybody except (Brooks) at halftime, because in the first half, we took really bad shots,” Williams said. “Luke made one three that was a really good shot. Another one he made wasn’t a very good shot, but Garrison kept us in the game in the first half with his inside play.”
Last season, Williams had trouble relying on the younger big men, and used a small ball lineup that included Maye playing at center. It was not a natural fit for Maye, who normally played power forward, and he was sometimes overpowered on defense by players who were bigger.
2. Perimeter defense should be better this season
Senior guard Kenny Williams was dominant on defense, keeping Wofford senior guard Fletcher Magee to 21 points and 3-for-16 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
Freshman guard Coby White, junior guard Seventh Woods and freshman wing Nassir Little played well on defense, too. Little had two big blocks. Woods dove on the floor for a steal in the first half. He finished with two steals.
Against UNC, Wofford shot 38 percent from floor, and 25.7 percent from behind the 3-point line. Wofford sophomore point guard Storm Murphy committed four turnovers, and the Terriers were held to 26 first-half points.
“I thought defensively, we were pretty good the whole game,” coach Williams said.
If UNC’s defenders can stay in front of their men, they can force opponents to take long shots, which should alleviate some of the issues UNC had with defending the rim last year. UNC blocked 11.2 percent of its opponents’ shots last season, which was 305 out of 351 Division I teams, according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics.
3. Turnovers still a problem
The Tar Heels biggest issue against Wofford was its 15 turnovers.
UNC turned the ball over on 21.5 percent (more than one-fifth) of its possessions, according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. Wofford had nine turnovers, on 12.9 percent of its possessions.
Some of UNC’s turnovers were unforced, or came from bad decisions. The Tar Heels had five players with two or more turnovers. Of the 10 players with at least one minute against Wofford, only two — Little (20 minutes) and Black (eight minutes) — did not turn the ball over.
Nerves were a factor for some players. White, playing in his first college game and running point guard, had two turnovers, both in the first half.
“I was real nervous,” White said. “Probably the (most) nervous I’ve ever been on a basketball court.”
White said he thought the team had improved since its 22 turnover exhibition game against Mt. Olive on Nov. 2.
“We had little slips ups, but we play at a fast pace.”
No. 8 UNC (1-0) at Elon (1-0)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Schar Center, Elon