CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Roy Williams has made a habit of reminding his Tar Heels that Brice Johnson will not be emerging from the locker room to provide a rebounding presence this season. If Friday’s 124-63 exhibition win over UNC Pembroke is any indication, his message has yet to sink in.
The Braves’ starting frontline stood 6-foot-10, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-4, while their backcourt went 6-foot and 5-foot-7. Despite the height discrepancy across the board, UNC Pembroke pulled down 16 offensive rebounds in the first half alone. The Tar Heels allowed 30 offensive rebounds in total, 10 more than they allowed in a game all last season (Notre Dame, 20) and more than they have allowed in 14 years.
UNC Pembroke shot 26.3 percent, missing 70 of its 95 field goal attempts, yet managed a 43.4 offensive rebounding percentage. The Braves only scored 14 points off those 30 offensive rebounds.
“You’re going to have more opportunities when you shoot a poor percentage, but we didn’t do as good of a job of boxing out,” Williams said after the win. “I told them about a kid that we had that came and visited when I was at Kansas. He said he didn’t realize there were 11 commandments because he said after watching our practice that the 11th commandment was ‘thou shall box out.’
“We did not believe the 11th commandment tonight.”
Eleven of UNC Pembroke’s offensive rebounds came on missed 3-point attempts. There were others, such as 6-foot Micah Kinsey tipping in a free throw miss over 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson, that cannot be dismissed as easily. Starting forwards Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks each pulled down five rebounds in 34 combined minutes.
“It does concern me that we had some guys that I’m counting on being big-time rebounders that didn’t box out,” Williams said.
Nearly a week removed from dominating Memphis on the boards in a secret scrimmage, the Tar Heels seemed lethargic at times on the glass. Asked about the postgame message from his head coach, sophomore forward Luke Maye said, “It wasn’t good. Coach was frustrated.”
Williams told reporters his top concern a week out from the season opener at Tulane remains rebounding, which is a responsibility that extends beyond the post players. There has been improvement through the first 24 practices, according to Jackson.
“I’d say that out of the non-bigs I’ve seen some growth,” Jackson said. “Obviously, Brice got pretty much every rebound that came off the backboard, and we’ve got bigs that can do that. They just haven’t gotten there yet.”
Maye and freshman forward Tony Bradley led UNC with eight rebounds apiece. Jackson added four, while sophomore wing Kenny Williams and freshman guard Seventh Woods both grabbed three rebounds.
“All of the bigs push each other and really work to box out and help our team,” Maye said. “It falls on everybody, the bigs and the guards. They sent a lot of guys to the boards tonight. We just need to work as a team to rebound and not just the two big guys inside.”