CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 1 North Carolina’s big men attempted more jump shots in the first half on Wednesday than the entire roster attempted free throws. The Tar Heels adjusted their approach after halftime, attacking the rim both in transition and in the post.
Despite Wofford’s tallest frontcourt starter standing 6-foot-7, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks elected to take jumpers outside of 15 feet. Isaiah Hicks and Joel James did the same off the bench.
“Those four outside shots were in about a six-minute period, and we had a size advantage,” Roy Williams said during his postgame press conference. “They were doing a good job of denying us the low post, and instead of trying to move away and repost, we started settling for a 10- or 12-foot post up.”
The willingness to fire away over shorter defenders – a tempting proposition, according to Hicks – paired with a lack of aggressiveness by the perimeter players resulted in six Wofford fouls and three UNC free throws in the opening 20 minutes. Advantage, Terriers. UNC led 34-29 at the break.
On Sunday, Williams implored his team to play with more fire and heart after halftime against Fairfield. On Wednesday, the adjustment was more schematic.
“We realized they didn’t have any shot blockers,” sophomore wing Theo Pinson said. “Get to the paint and make plays. That’s what we did.”
UNC outscored Wofford, 28-10, in the paint after halftime (50-18 for the game) by pounding the ball inside in halfcourt sets and attacking the rim in transition. The Tar Heels drew 11 fouls and shot 16 free throws over the final 20 minutes in pulling away with a 14-3 run.
The Tar Heels’ four-man post rotation combined for 48 points on 20-of-34 shooting and 28 rebounds.
“That’s one of the things [Williams] emphasized was to attack the rim,” Hicks said. “That’s something he’s emphasizing for the bigs this year. Don’t settle for jump shots, just attack and get fouled.”
Given UNC’s size down low, that’s a game plan that will be standard operating procedure throughout the season. The Tar Heels were also effective in the open court getting to the rim, courtesy of 11 steals.
UNC scored 20 points off 15 Wofford turnovers.
With 8:47 to play, junior guard Nate Britt converted perimeter steals into transition layups on on back-to-back possessions to provide a 64-50 cushion. Sophomore guard Joel Berry was equally as effective, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He was 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
“They play a sagging man-to-man, so I just tried to get the ball out and push pressure on them,” Berry said. “It just so happens that I was able to get to the hole. That’s what we wanted to do and that’s what we always want to do as a program.”
UNC is averaging 24.7 free throw attempts per game this season, including 15.3 attempts after halftime.