CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Davidson had enough size and plenty of skill available in Sunday’s matchup with No. 9 North Carolina. What it lacked was the athleticism necessary to spring the upset.
The Wildcats arrived at the Smith Center intent and willing to run with the Tar Heels. Bob McKillop’s squad had averaged 88.2 points in winning its first five games this season, including a 109-point explosion at Charlotte on Tuesday.
Running with Roy Williams’s best squad is often fool’s gold, due to UNC’s transition design and its talent on hand, and that mismatch played out in this 33-point victory.
UNC’s length and quickness disrupted Davidson’s offensive rhythm, limiting quality looks and altering multiple shots. The Wildcats were held to 34.3 percent shooting, including a 25.8 percent effort from 3-point range (8-of-31).
“I think everybody did a better job on the ball,” Williams said during his postgame press conference. “We didn’t have to help as much, and that leaves guys open for 3-point shots.”
Davidson has four players shooting better than 35 percent from 3 on the season. That quartet missed 16 of 22 treys on the night.
“Today there were a lot of times when we switched or we just had to get out on the shooter,” sophomore wing Justin Jackson said, “And I think everybody did a really good job of trying to get out there and using their own length because we’re a long team.”
The Tar Heels’ transition game is most effective off defensive stops, which were abundant on Sunday, whether it was scoring 16 points off 14 turnovers or racing ahead off rebounds to score 26 fastbreak points. That number is likely significantly higher in the manner the coaching staff tracks the statistic.
UNC outrebounded Davidson, 52-31, including a 15-7 edge on the offensive glass.
“It’s a lot easier to start the break when the ball doesn’t go through the basket,” senior guard Marcus Paige said.
Seven different Tar Heels dished out at least one assist, and three had at least four.
Even in its halfcourt sets, the Tar Heels were able to create off the dribble. Paige, Jackson and Theo Pinson were able to break their defenders down and get to the rim. Joel Berry and Nate Britt attacked in two different ways, both pushing the tempo and knocking down 3-point shots (5-of-9 combined) against Davidson’s sagging defense on the perimeter.
The Wildcats utilized double teams in the post, both from the other block and the perimeter, in an attempt to limit the effectiveness of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson. That approach failed to yield the desired result as the pair combined for 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting while providing a wealth of open looks for their perimeter teammates.
Against a lineup as deep and balanced as UNC’s, oftentimes there is never a correct plan of action. Take away the post, and the guards can score outside. Press and trap on the perimeter, and the paint becomes vulnerable.
“We’ve got probably seven guys that are legitimate threats to go double figures on any given night,” Paige said. “Tonight we had five, and one guy had nine. We want balance. We don’t want it all concentrated within a couple of guys that play a lot of the minutes. On any given night, we want four or five guys in double figures because that means we have a balanced attack that’s harder to guard.”
That combination of balance, length and athleticism, even before factoring in the talent on hand, helps shield any potential weaknesses that opponents may hope to exploit.