Built to Run

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Roy Williams always wants his team to play faster. For the first time in a while, North Carolina is equipped to do it.

The Tar Heels displayed their improved perimeter depth in their exhibition opener, a 111-58 victory over Fayetteville State on Friday night at the Smith Center.

Freshman wing players Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson led the Tar Heels in scoring with 18 and 15 points, respectively. Freshman point guard Joel Berry added 12 points, four assists, and no turnovers. The trio provided help that UNC lacked last season when it depended heavily on point guard Marcus Paige for perimeter offense.

“Last year we had to do a lot of things out of necessity,” Paige said. “I had to hunt my shot out of necessity. Guys had to play extended minutes that they shouldn’t have to. With a balanced team, I think that allows guys to do what they do. You don’t see Justin or Theo or myself forcing a lot because we know we’re going to get our opportunities and not be asked to do too much. It’s nice to have that balance. I don’t think we’ve had it since I’ve been here.”

UNC’s depth showed up in pace of play on both ends of the court. The Tar Heels emphasized making a quick transition from defense to offense, as is their custom, but the defense they transitioned from was a bit different.

UNC implemented a heavy dose of full-court pressure, a tactic Williams has been reluctant to try in recent seasons because of the team’s lack of depth. But this season the Tar Heels have capable perimeter players that they can substitute in the event of fatigue or foul trouble, both of which become more common when playing pressure defense.

“We’re trying to see if we can create more turnovers,” Williams said. “We played it last year a little bit but never really used it effectively in a game except for the Davidson game, I think, here. So we are trying to do some more of it.”

The press led to some easy baskets against the Broncos, who finished with five assists and 22 turnovers. The starting trio of Paige, Tokoto, and Jackson set the tone, and the second unit of Berry, Pinson, and Nate Britt wreaked havoc with their speed and quickness.

“We can be a lot more aggressive this year in guarding the ball and going for steals, whatever it is, knowing that we have the depth and knowing that we have guys who can come in and play,” Tokoto said. “That’s why Coach is putting us in the press to see how it works and how it looks.”

The experimental 30-second shot clock was hardly a factor on the other end of the floor for the Tar Heels, who took shots quickly.

In the aftermath of news that reserve point guard Luke Davis will miss the next 2-3 months because of a stress fracture in his right foot, UNC still played four point guards against Fayetteville State. And as Tokoto showed with eight assists and one turnover against the Broncos, the Tar Heels have plenty of options now for playmaking.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can get the rebound and push the ball,” Paige said. “If J.P. or Justin gets the rebound, they don’t have to outlet it to me. They can just take off and start the break themselves. We have depth in case guys get fatigued, so we can run people in and out.

“We didn’t get the break going as much as we’d like to today, but it’s still early, and we’re still trying to emphasize running. I think our team is more built to run this year than we have been in the past.”

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