In its 60-55 home loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday, UNC was outmuscled, outshot, and outplayed by the Hawkeyes. Roy Williams’s squad shot a putrid 27.9 percent from the field, the fifth lowest ever in school history. In addition, the Tar Heels had just eight assists in posting a negative assist-to-turnover ratio (10 turnovers).
On Sunday, UNC responded in a big way by sharing the basketball. From start to finish, the Tar Heels were able to find the open man and convert easy baskets. By the time the final horn sounded, UNC had recorded 27 team assists from nine different players and had turned in a season-best 60.0 percent shooting effort (45-of-75).
In addition to scoring the ball efficiently, UNC tied a season low with eight turnovers (nearly six below its season average of 13.9). With a 27-9 assist-to-turnover ratio, UNC proved that it has the ability to get everybody involved on offense, while still playing under control.
“We always look at assist-to turnover ratio,” said UNC guard Marcus Paige, who dished out a season-high six assists. “Against Iowa we had a lot of careless turnovers. … We did a great job sharing the ball and taking care of the ball [against ECU] and that’s something we that we need to keep doing.”
The fact that forward J.P. Tokoto (eight assists) and Paige led the way in assists has become the norm for this team. Whether they are leading a fast break or looking for cutters on the back door, both players seem to have a knack for finding the open spaces in opposing defenses.
Tokoto in particular was outstanding from start to finish. The small forward was most effective from the top of the key where he consistently connected on backdoor cutters that produced easy lay-ins.
“Today we had a ton of assists on a lot of baskets, which is great,” Tokoto said. “Everybody was sharing the ball and everybody was moving. That’s what we need in our offense to be successful.”
Even more encouraging for Williams is that other players are finding ways to create offensive chances for their teammates. Freshmen Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson also combined for five assists as each player looked confident in how they were able to move the ball.
Pinson has looked frantic at times this season, but stayed much more in control in this game. In one series, Pinson was able to slow things down on the fast break and execute a perfect pick and roll that ended with a wide-open Brice Johnson jump shot.
Jackson, meanwhile, has always shown confidence in attacking the basket. Against East Carolina, however, he showed an even greater willingness to make that one extra pass, and the results were impressive. The freshmen had two superb backdoor passes to Kennedy Meeks in the paint (and one basket that was called back after a questionable charging call).
Backup guards Nate Britt and Joel Berry were also effective against the Pirates. The two each had season highs in points – Berry had eight, Britt had 10 - and combined for five assists against zero turnovers.
Even with all of the involvement from the backcourt and wing positions, a lot of the action still starts with Meeks on the interior. After the Davidson game, Williams called Meeks “the best outlet passer he’s ever coached.”
Meeks only had one assist on the score sheet, but the big man once again set the tone with his precise outlet passes, as well as his ability to find open shooters when he has the ball under the basket.
“You want to play as a team and that’s one of the things you have to do,” Johnson said. “You have to pass it around and get the best shot that this team needs. That’s one of the biggest things we did tonight.”