CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 6 North Carolina turned a competitive contest into a dominant 97-57 blowout with a 30-7 run against SoCon favorite Chattanooga at the Smith Center on Sunday.
Chattanooga relied on its 3-point shooting and its ability to force early turnovers in building a 26-23 lead with 7:49 to play in the first half. The Tar Heels cleaned up the miscues and locked down defensively over the next nine minutes and 43 seconds, turning a three-point deficit into a 20-point lead.
UNC connected on 11 of its 15 field goals during the spurt, included a 3-of-4 effort from 3-point range, while holding the Mocs to 3-of-17 shooting (0-of-5 3FG) and forcing six turnovers.
Six different Tar Heels scored in double figures, led by Joel Berry's 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Kennedy Meeks (14), Isaiah Hicks (13), Tony Bradley (12), Kenny Williams (11) and Justin Jackson (10) all provided offensive production.
"I love having six guys in double figures," UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the win.
Tre’ McLean, the SoCon preseason player of the year, was a non-factor on Sunday, due in large part to Justin Jackson’s length and defensive effort. The senior wing was held scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting. He grabbed four rebounds and committed five turnovers in 32 minutes.
Scoring with Help
UNC continued its generous passing ways against the Mocs by assisting on 14 of its first 17 field goals and finishing with 26 assists on its 34 field goals, resulting in a 48.6 field goal percentage (34-of-70). Driving the complementary aspect of the offense is the Tar Heels’ willingness to spread the wealth: four different players dished out three or more assists, including three with five each.
UNC is assisting on 72.0 percent of its field goals through two games, a year removed from assisting on 57.7 percent of its field goals (712-1235).
"Somebody came up with some stat that last year was the first time that somebody played for the national championship and only had one guy make all-conference," Williams said. "It was a team, it really was, and I think we've emphasized from Day One that this group needs to be a team as well. Twenty-six assists, 34 baskets is pretty good, and I think we can do better because we missed some easy shots."
Nate Britt started at the off guard spot two days after Kenny Williams earned the nod in the season opener at Tulane. Roy Williams made it clear in New Orleans the position is still up for grabs, although the sophomore wing made a strong case for the job in Theo Pinson’s absence against the Mocs.
Williams joined Joel Berry in the backcourt to spark UNC’s run late in the first with defensive intensity and pressure that forced Chattanooga to start its offense further out on the perimeter than desired. He also flourished offensively, scoring 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting (1-of-2 3FG) and handing out five assists while also grabbing six rebounds in 20 minutes.
"I want to see who’s going to play the best on game night," Williams said. "... I’m just giving guys some chances. When you get in there, you need to play well and do some good things. And it won’t show up on the scoreboard, but Nate, defensively, was really good for us.”
The Tar Heels won their 100th home opener and their 84th in 86 tries. UNC is 28-2 in home openers at the Smith Center and has won 15 straight.
Another quick turnaround for UNC as Long Beach State comes to town for a Tuesday night matchup at the Smith Center. The 49ers return three starters from a team that posted a 20-15 (12-4 Big West) record and played in the NIT.
LBSU topped Cal State Los Angeles, 95-59, in its season opener before playing at Wichita State on Sunday.