by Mike Potter
SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL LeVelle Moton's first game assignment as N.C. Central's head basketball coach wasn't supposed to be easy, and in fact he said he relished the challenge.
The Eagles, coming off a 4-27 campaign and in their third season of Division I basketball, come into Wednesday's game as prohibitive underdogs against defending NCAA champion North Carolina, which is ranked No. 4 nationally.
It is the schools' historic first meeting, although they have squared off before in an exhibition back in 2003 when Roy Williams was in his first season as UNC head coach. The Tar Heels won that one in 97-59 at the Smith Center over an NCCU team coached by Phil Spence.
The game is part of the 2K Sports Classic Benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer, and everybody can see it on ESPNU. And it pretty much turns out as expected, as the Tar Heels roll 89-42 behind a career high-tying 17 points from Marcus Ginyard (pictured) in front of about a two-thirds-full arena on a cold, rainy night.
The games in the 12-team festival are already preset except for what will likely be the mythical championship game.
The Tar Heels will end up at Madison Square Garden Nov. 19-20, facing Ohio State in the semifinals and either St. John's of California the next night.
NCCU, meanwhile, will finish its participation in the event in Miami, where the Eagles will face host Florida International on Nov. 20, Murray State on Nov. 22 and James Madison on Nov. 23.
UNC has already disposed of FIU, under new coach Isiah Thomas, 88-72 on Wednesday night.
The Eagles come out in a spread offense, preferring to keep the ball above the top of the 3-point arc until there are single digits left on the shot clock.
And they do a pretty good job early, trailing only 19-17 following a Vincent Davis 3-pointer from the left elbow with 12:25 left in the half.
But when the Eagles go cold the Tar Heels take advantage of it in a big way. UNC scores 21 straight points, finishing the half on a 30-3 run that makes it 51-20 at the break.
UNC's biggest lead is 52, at 89-37 on a pair of Will Graves free throws with 1:17 to play.
Deon Thompson adds 13 points and Tyler Zeller 12 for the Tar Heels. C.J. Wilkerson paces NCCU with 16 in his first game for the Eagles.
The Tar Heels shoot 59.3 percent from the floor to NCCU's 25.5 and win the rebound battle 46-24.
Turnovers are reasonably close, as the Eagles commit 21 and UNC 19.
They said it ...
UNC coach Roy Williams: "For the most part I was more pleased than I was the other night. At the end we got a little sloppy, and we were sloppy the first 1:52 of the second half. I think we had like three turnovers during that stretch. But I thought we were more attentive. We were just so much bigger than LeVelle's team, you know, 46-24 on the backboards there. At times we were almost playing volleyball back there across the goal."
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton: "They were who we thought they were for sure. I thought our guys came out and had a lot of nervous energy at the beginning of the game. At shootaround, the moment they walked in their heads were in the rafters and they're looking at the posters and the pictures. ... We came here to win a game. There are no moral victories. We're not happy because we played close for the first 10 minutes. That's going to be the attitude, that's going to be the culture of this program. But it's going to take a minute. It's a work in progress."
Ginyard: "We still had a couple of little silly turnovers and tried to force some things, but we were working it around and taking the shot we want. There's no question a huge focus for this team is pounding the ball inside-out. We had a pretty good advantage and we were trying to take advantage of it. Over the summer I was obviously working on a lot of things offensively, just really trying to get outside of being labeled (as not much of a scorer). I just want to be a player, and just want to do everything and anything I can. Being more aggressive offensively has been a good benefit for me."
Wilkerson: "Coming out playing the defending national champions, it was a great experience for me myself, and my team. We looked forward to the experience. It was a building block for the rest of the season. I think we came out and played pretty hard at the beginning of the game executing our game plan. The time when they got on a run we got away from it and kind of let the run take over and continue to build. But overall I think we played pretty hard."
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels are still tooling along in the Top Ten, and that Moton's first-game baptism of fire is behind him.
Stars of the game
1. Ginyard, for tying his career high.
2. Zeller, for going 6-for-6 from the floor.
3. Wilkerson, for a 16-point effort in his first senior college game.
Play of the game
Ginyard's steal and dunk to make it 34-17 with 6:23 left in the first half.
N.C. Central at Miami, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Valparaiso at UNC, Sunday, 4 p.m.