CHAPEL HILL – Top-ranked North Carolina shook off a slow starting first half – again – and for the second time in as many games, pulled away from an opponent it should have put away much earlier.
Wofford hung with the Tar Heels for as long as they could, but UNC used a 14-3 run to get some breathing room, eventually pulling away for a 78-58 victory.
The Heels (3-0) didn’t particularly shoot the ball well, the Terriers did, and that would explain the visitors making it a three-point game with less than four minutes remaining in the first half. North Carolina, still trying to find its shooting touch from the outside, shot just 25% from three-point range in the first half. They didn’t fare much better in the second (0-5), but they did remember they were a lot bigger than the Terriers in the post and took advantage.
“We’ve been trying to get Brice (Johnson), Joel (James) and Kennedy (Meeks) to stop shooting jump shots,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We had a size advantage. The second half I thought we were better and took the ball to the basket.”
The Heels scored 50 points in the paint (51.6% from the field), getting 16 a piece from Meeks and Johnson, who added 14 rebounds, and another 12 off the bench from Isaiah Hicks. North Carolina didn’t push its lead to double digits until the 9:07 mark of the second half. They then showed the tempo that made them the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
“I just tried to push it as fast as possible,” point-guard Joel Berry II said. “That’s what we want to do. As a point-guard that’s what you have to do, put a little pressure on the defense, and that’s what I did.”
An inside basket from Johnson and consecutive jumpers from Nate Britt pushed the lead to 14. North Carolina would cruise the rest of the way, eventually letting the backups play in a game many assumed would be over before halftime.
Berry, in his third collegiate start, also added 16 points for UNC.
“I think Joel had the best preseason of any of our guys,” Williams said. “He does some good things. Joel does a nice job for us.”
Eric Garcia led Wofford (0-2) with 15 points. Justin Gordon finished with 12 and Spencer Collins had 11.
Game changer: Carolina was in a dogfight (get it) with the Terriers well into the second half. It took a 14-3 run by the Heels to finally pull away. Carolina only allowed 11 points in the final 13:36 of the game, out-scoring Wofford, 28-11, during that span. During that stretch, five different players scored for the Heels.
Stick with it: Feeding the ball inside to the bigs. Meeks and Johnson are one of the best inside duos in the country. When playing a team like Wofford, who doesn’t have the size, Carolina has to dominate. It did that in the second half and that’s when the tide turned.
“The gameplan was to go inside,” Berry said. “We have two of the best big men in the nation so we wanted to get the ball inside to them. Just having that inside attack … we were able to get the ball inside and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Numbers don’t lie:
42 – Number of total rebounds for the Tar Heels. The much taller UNC squad dominated the boards 42-25 led by Johnson’s 14.
“I thought he was much more active on the boards tonight,” Williams said about his senior forward.
50 – Points in the paint for the Tar Heels. Meeks, Johnson, Hicks and James combined for 64 points against Wofford.
“They were undersized, and we should have used our size to our advantage instead of shooting turnaround jumpers,” Johnson said. “We just started to realize it (the size advantage) after coach chewed us out. We thought they were going to double the post but they didn’t. That’s one thing we have to pay attention to as bigs.”
20 – Number of points North Carolina scored off turnovers committed by Wofford.
Joel Berry, UNC – The sophomore scored a career-high 16 points and had a career-high four steals. Berry has now scored 14, 15 and 16 points in his first three college starts.
Brice Johnson, UNC – Johnson recorded his 13th career double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Johnson only missed one shot in the second half.
Isaiah Hicks, UNC – Hicks scored a season-high 12 points in 14 minutes off the bench.
What’s next?: North Carolina will play at Northern Iowa on Saturday in a game that was supposed to be a homecoming event for senior Marcus Paige. Paige has yet to play a game this year for North Carolina.
Quote of the night: “Fairfield game was terrible. Everyone knows that. We took that as a learning experience that we can’t just go out there and play just because we’re North Carolina.” – Theo Pinson, UNC.