CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Despite some lingering defensive question marks, No. 7 North Carolina continued its season trend of elite efficient scoring in Monday’s 94-70 win over Appalachian State.
Roy Williams’ teams are known for pinpoint execution, pairing a transition approach with an emphasis on interior dominance that has worked throughout his career. UNC ranked top-5 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com, four times in five years between 2005-09, leading the country twice over that time period.
Since the ’09 title run, however, the Tar Heels have yet to finish a season inside the top-5 of that statistical category, coming close in 2012 (114.0; 13th) and 2015 (116.5; 10th).
Through 12 games this season, UNC ranks second nationally with an adjusted offensive efficiency mark of 118.8, and that’s with the five starters playing together just three times due to injuries.
In Monday’s win, UNC shot 47.2 percent from the floor, a meager effort given its offensive success of late. The Tar Heels have shot better than 50 percent in eight games this season, and have shot above 48 percent in 12 of their last 14 halves and in all but two halves in which senior guard Marcus Paige has played this season (42.4% in first half vs. UCLA; 46.3% in second half vs. ASU).
UNC assisted on 22 of its 34 made field goals, including the first four of the game in jumping out to a 13-3 lead. Of the 12 non-assisted baskets, three were primary break layups by sophomore point guard Joel Berry and six were putbacks off offensive rebounds.
When asked postgame if this UNC team was more efficient offensively than previous teams, Williams replied: “Yeah, and we have a few more offensive weapons.”
Three different Tar Heels – Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson - have scored 25 points or more in games this season, and four have scored 20 points or more thus far (Paige).
“We just try to play together,” Johnson said. “Some nights, some guys are hot, some nights, other guys are hot. We don’t really care about who gets the shots. It’s just North Carolina against somebody else, and we want to be able to win the game… We just have to go out there and play together and be the team that we know we can be.”
Isaiah Hicks credits the offensive efficiency to the chemistry that’s inherent on veteran squads, in knowing each other so well after playing together for so long. Paige, on the other hand, highlights the play of both Johnson and Hicks on the interior as the trigger.
Johnson is averaging a team-best 16.3 points per game on 65.3 percent shooting, while Hicks, who ranks 10th nationally in kenpom.com’s offensive rating, is averaging 8.8 points on 66.7 percent shooting.
The perimeter play has been equally as important.
“Our guards have been taking good shots and we’ve been getting into the paint, mixing it up,” Paige said. “We didn’t shoot it great from three tonight, I don’t think, but even today we were 48 and 46 percent from the floor. That wasn’t our best, but when we get as much as we do from our inside guys, our numbers are going to look good.”
Five days after assisting on 30 of 36 field goals in the win against Tulane, the Tar Heels dished out 22 assists, marking the seventh time in 12 games they have total 20 or more assists. Entering Monday’s contest, UNC ranked seventh nationally in assists per game (19.6) and second in assist-turnover margin (1.88).
“The other thing I think we’re doing very well is being very unselfish,” Williams said. “Passing the ball. Twenty-two assists on 34 baskets is not exactly like it was this weekend, but still pretty good.”
UNC is averaging 91.3 points over its last six games, and has scored 90 or more points five times this season, matching the number of times it reached the 90-point threshold all of last season.