CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Roy Williams admits he’s thrown a lot at his young North Carolina players to get them ready for the season. It sounds like he’s about to demand a little more from them.
Deon Thompson matched his career high with 22 points to help the 11th-ranked Tar Heels beat Gardner-Webb 93-72 on Monday night, bouncing back from their first loss of the season with a relatively easy win against an overmatched nonconference opponent.
Tyler Zeller added 16 points off the bench for the Tar Heels (5-1), who led by double digits most of the way and had little trouble with the instate Big South Conference program. It was the 599th victory for Williams, now in his seventh year at his alma mater following 15 seasons in Kansas.
Williams was pleased with his team’s effort against the Runnin’ Bulldogs (3-1)—even though the Tar Heels watched Grayson Flittner put on a 3-point shooting display that matched a Smith Center record—and said his team might have been a little tight early by trying to do everything perfectly after last week’s loss to Syracuse.
But he also was frustrated with the Tar Heels’ shaky free-throw shooting and 11 second-half turnovers.
“These kids, they’re good kids, they care about what’s going on,” Williams said. “They’re always concerned about what happened last game so I expected some of that.
“I did tell the guys in the huddle one time that we’re getting close to that point that I’m not going to play everybody just because I like their smile, that you’ve got to produce when you get out there.”
North Carolina was ranked sixth last week before falling to Syracuse 87-71 in the final of the 2K Sports Classic on Friday night in New York. The Tar Heels led by two at halftime of that game before watching the Orange open the second half with a 22-1 run to take control before finishing the game shooting 54 percent.
It reminded everyone that despite the fact the Tar Heels are more talented than the last time they had to reload following a national championship run, they are still young in key positions and still learning how to blend numerous skilled players into a cohesive unit.
For example, Williams experimented for the first time with playing sophomore point guard Larry Drew II and his backup, freshman Dexter Strickland, together for stretches.
“He’s definitely trying to see who plays well together and who meshes well together,” said Thompson, who had 10 rebounds. “Coach is still trying to find out what this team is about.”
The Tar Heels’ frontcourt production hasn’t been much of a question mark, at least. Thompson, who scored his 1,000th point late in the first half, hit 9 of 11 shots while Ed Davis had 15 points and 13 rebounds. Zeller hit 6 of 8 shots and played through getting a small cut over his right eye early in the second half that required two stitches.
Behind that trio, North Carolina got 58 points in the paint and took just four 3-pointers for the entire game.
“When we’re playing a team that their starting 4 (man) is 6-3, we’re going to try to get the ball into the post,” Davis said.
Flittner scored 32 points and hit nine 3-pointers to match the Smith Center record for any player. The Runnin’ Bulldogs shot 38 percent, but hung around by hitting 15 of 36 3-point attempts.
“I thought our kids played hard, but obviously we were overmatched,” Gardner-Webb coach Rick Scruggs said. “I mean, North Carolina is so big, long and athletic and it’s hard as heck to play against those guys.”
North Carolina led by 15 points at halftime and 21 points early in the second half. It shot 56 percent and took a 50-32 rebounding advantage against its undersized opponents, but made only 18 of 33 foul shots—the kind of performance that won’t be good enough come Atlantic Coast Conference time.
Flittner hit six 3s in the first half, but the Tar Heels used a 12-0 run midway through the first half to build a 35-17 lead on a dunk by Davis off a turnover with 8:05 left. Zeller scored on a rebound just before halftime to make it 53-38.
The Tar Heels scored on three straight possessions to open the second half, pushing the margin to 59-38 on a stickback dunk by Davis with 18 1/2 minutes left.