LAHAINA, Hawaii – Roy Williams told his Tar Heels that Tuesday’s semifinal round at the Maui Invitational marked the team’s first trip to college basketball’s big leagues. His players responded by putting on a 107-75 show at the Lahaina Civic Center against Oklahoma State.
No. 4 North Carolina built a 25-point lead by the first media timeout of the second half with a balanced blend of offensive precision and defensive tenacity. Up until that point, the Tar Heels were shooting 63.2 percent from the floor, including a 6-of-9 mark from 3-point range, while holding Oklahoma State to 31.9 percent shooting (15.4 percent from 3).
Despite assisting on just 16 of their 37 field goals, UNC’s balanced approach was a clear advantage to the Cowboys’ one-dimensional method. Seven Tar Heels converted at least three field goal attempts, led by Joel Berry’s 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Oklahoma State’s Juwan Evans led all scorers with 30 points on 13-of-25 shooting, but he was the lone Cowboy in double figures until five minutes to play.
"Just being at the top of the scouting report going into each game, I think Justin and me, that will be something familiar for us," Berry said after the game. "And so seeing that we have six guys scoring in double figures, they just can't key in on us. They have to be ready for everybody else. That just opened up more opportunities for us."
UNC shot 57.8 percent for the game (47.1 percent from 3) and held OSU to 36.1 percent.
Jackson Adds Aggression
Justin Jackson made a point this offseason to play a more aggressive style of offense, and that offseason work was on display against the Cowboys. The junior wing consistently attacked the rim, highlighted by a pair of driving baseline layups to open the second half.
"It's the biggest thing I talked to him about in the offseason," Williams said during his postgame press conference. "I wanted him to get to the free throw line more and not be classified as just a shooter. And I think he did that."
Jackson scored 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting and added eight rebounds and six assists. He’s scored in double figures in all six games this season.
The Tar Heels exploded off the tip to their best start of the season against their best competition to date. UNC scored on seven of its first eight possessions, totaling eight points off six offensive rebounds and two points off a Cowboys turnover. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, missed six of its first eight field goal attempts and was outrebounded 9-2 through the opening 16 possessions.
UNC averaged 2.0 points per possession while OSU managed just .571 prior to the first media timeout. The result was a 16-4 Tar Heel lead.
Foul Trouble Creeps In
Isaiah Hicks had avoided foul trouble for the most part in UNC’s first five games, his four fouls at Hawaii last Friday notwithstanding. He picked up his third foul against Oklahoma State with 5:10 to play in the first half, relegating him to the bench for the remainder of the period. With Luke Maye in street clothes (ankle sprain), the Tar Heels entered the Maui Invitational with only three scholarship post players.
Hicks’s foul trouble forced Kennedy Meeks to log 16 minutes before halftime, while Tony Bradley played 11 minutes. Hicks avoided any more fouls in the second half, although Meeks fouled out with 5:08 to play in 27 minutes.
"Coming in after halftime, I was just playing smart and being more aware of it," Hicks said.
UNC was whistled 22 times, including 13 fouls before halftime, including a pair of questionable calls that went against Justin Jackson. Freshman guard Seventh Woods fouled out in seven minutes, while six others finished with at least two fouls.
Sequence of the Game
In the final minutes of the first half, Tony Bradley earned floor burns on consecutive possessions. A pass ahead from Kenny Williams on the break was too long for the freshman center, who dove out of bounds trying to save the ball. Bradley hopped up with some help from courtside fans and was diving on the ground yet again 60 feet down the court for a loose ball. On UNC’s next trip down, Bradley found Kennedy Meeks underneath for an open dunk.
Speaking of Bradley, the freshman forward has scored in double figures in all six of his games as a Tar Heel. He's averaging 11.5 points per game on 72.2 percent shooting.
UNC has now won the same number of games at the Lahaina Civic Center (17) as it has at the RBC Center in Raleigh and Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem. The Tar Heels are 17-3 in Maui.
UNC will play No. 16 Wisconsin for the Maui Invitational title on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. HT (9:30 p.m. EST). The Badgers defeated Tennessee, 74-62, on Monday and topped Georgetown, 73-57, in the semifinal round on Tuesday.