CHAPEL HILL/SMITH CENTER — After suffering its first defeat of the season last weekend in disastrous fashion to Syracuse, North Carolina’s return game was a home affair against outmanned Gardner-Web.
While mismatches such as these typically don’t excite the fanbase — indeed, crowd turnout and volume have been subpar so far this season — there was more anxiety evident in the stands after the debacle against the Orange.
But Carolina was able to operate its transition game the best it has all season, leading to an easy victory in which several struggling players were able to play more loosely and, thus, more effectively.
Beginning at point guard, it is obvious that instilling greater confidence in the club’s floor generals has become a point of emphasis. Both starter Larry Drew (six points, five assists, four rebounds, three turnovers) and his backup Dexter Strickland (four points, three assists, one turnover) were more aggressive seeking their own offense, and the result was a more balanced attack.
Additionally, Drew and Strickland actually played alongside each other, a combination Roy Williams had resisted to this point and one that put Strickland at his natural shooting guard position.
As a team, the Tar Heels shot 56 percent from the field, a number reminiscent of last year’s potent unit. They also devastated the tiny Bulldogs 50-to-32 in the rebounding department, and they received 53 total points and 28 total rebounds from big men Deon Thompson, Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller.
The one ominous note was struck, over and over again, by Gardner-Webb guard Grayson Flittner. The harmless-looking shooter tied a Smith Center record by connecting on nine three-pointers en route to 32 points. By the end of the demonstration, fans groaned as the Heels determinedly stuck to their general defensive scheme rather than taking bolder steps to slow Flittner’s assault.
Clearly, it’s difficult to read too much into a blowout victory against an inferior team. The Heels still have obvious offensive concerns on the perimeter and defensive questions throughout the lineup, and in the coming weeks they’ll play three top-five opponents: Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas.
Carolina will host Nevada on Sunday evening and then welcome the Spartans in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next Tuesday. To check out the Gardner-Webb box score, click here.