For the third time in as many games, the Tar Heels won a game that cosmetically appeared quite different, but in reality featured many of the same lessons that will recurrently surface as the team grows. Despite allowing 24 offensive rebounds, Carolina, behind 18 points and four assists from 6-foot-9 sophomore Jawad Williams, held off pesky Old Dominion, 67-59, before a loud sellout crowd of 8,424 at the Constant Convocation Center.
"I think that's just a great, great win for our program and our young team, to come into Old Dominion, open up a new building for them, and three of their top players from North Carolina," UNC coach Matt Doherty said after the game. "It was a dangerous game - scared me to death. And I was just really proud of our guys, the way they played to come out of here with a win."
The Monarchs closed to within five points twice, the last time at 58-53 with 5:15 left in the game. But a Melvin Scott 3-pointer and a pair of free throws by freshman Rashad McCants gave the Tar Heels a 63-53 cushion with 3:53 left. And from that point on, UNC (3-0) protected its lead; an educational must if they are to become an NCAA caliber team.
"I thought it was a great test," Doherty said. "We started off a little slow and the mid part of the first half we hit our stride, and they made a run at us and we answered it and went into the half up (11).
"I thought that was a good emotional sign for us to be up at least 10 at halftime," UNC ‘s third-year coach continued. "And the second half they made a run at us and we answered that run and at the end of the game we made some foul shots, took care of the ball."
Despite owning a 13-point lead nearly three minutes into the second half, this certainly wasn't an easy victory for the Tar Heels.
The Monarchs applied pressure on both ends of the floor, forcing Carolina into 11 second-half turnovers (with just two assists) and 13 of its 17 fouls after the intermission.
"They are a good team and have good athletes and they have heart - they have heart," said freshman center Sean May, who finished with 16 points and a team-high eight rebounds. "They came at us and really fought hard, especially on the boards. They were pushing and were real physical in there. We were a little out of rhythm for a while, but I think we responded well."
Yet despite being outrebounded 42-35 overall and 24-10 on the offensive glass, the Heels prevailed, mainly because of their defense.
"I knew they made their run and I knew that if we bounced back and challenged their run with our defense and not allowing them so many easy looks that we would be alright, and that's what happened," May said.
Freshman point guard Raymond Felton tallied six points with five assists, and the other starter, sophomore wing Jackie Manuel failed to score (0-4 from the field) and had three turnovers to just one assist.
Rasheed Wright led ODU with 17 points and Ricardo Marsh and Alex Loughton both chipped 13 for the Monarchs (0-1).
Carolina's most impressive stretch came in the first half as the Tar Heels followed ODU's quick 4-0 start with a 25-7 run that showcased the team's athletic ability, unselfishness, and ability to play active man-to-man defense, although its interior defense allowed too many open looks around the basket.
"I though we did a good job, being active, and they didn't seem to get many good shots," said May.
The Tar Heels knocked down their first nine shots, with assists attached to eight of the buckets and each starter credited with a dish. Twelve of Carolina's 15 first-half field goals were assisted.
"Shot selection," Williams said. "We took good shots. We were patient and we didn't rush anything."
Williams had 14 points in the first half to go with three assists and played a nearly flawless floor game.
"It was just one of the (times) where I had to do what I had to do," Williams said about his all around first-half performance. "As far as the time, we weren't scoring. And passing the ball, I'm taller than most people, so I can dribble around and keep my eyes up and still hit the open man."
As one would expect from the youngest team in the nation, the Heels hit various levels, and their run, which eventually was the difference in the game, didn't last.
But as this is a work in progress, the players were positive about their first road test of the season, which ended a five-game losing streak on the road that dated back to a win at Clemson last January.
"It was a great win for us," May said. "It was a our first road win as a team, and it is a good win against a quality team."
And winning while learning is a lot better than last year.
"We made some mistakes and I think that's good," said Doherty. "I love to learn from a win than to learn from a loss."
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.