North Carolina gave its fans and its head coach stomach ulcers on Monday night, yet the Heels ultimately held off Rutgers at the Smith Center. The Heels and Scarlet Knights seesawed early, before UNC opened a margin of 17 points just shy of the midway point in the second half.
But Rutgers wasn’t quite ready to give up, and the Knights’ aggressive play combined with a series of silly mistakes by the Tar Heels enabled them to close the gap to a two-possession game.
And for the first time this season, freshman guard Dexter Strickland saved the day. Though he made some mistakes himself, Strickland made a couple of key drives and hit one crucial three-pointer from the corner — which Roy Williams later called a bad shot — that put distance between the Heels and their opponent.
Strickland led Carolina with 18 points in just 18 minutes of playing time, and he added four assists (with three turnovers) and two steals. Ed Davis put together yet another double-double for victors — 11 points and 15 rebounds — but uncharacteristically struggled to finish at the rim.
Marcus Ginyard sat out the game with a sprained ankle and will miss the Heels’ next contest as well, which enabled both Justin Watts and Leslie McDonald to get more playing time than usual.
But the biggest story of the evening was Roy Williams. Carolina’s venerable boss could hardly contain his rage at the Heels’ mistakes in the second half, and on one occasion — when he called a timeout and punched a chair — he didn’t. At other times, after a poor play he merely slumped his head in exasperation.
UNC’s 16 turnovers were no worse than many of their other performances this season, but it was the nature and timing of the miscues that drew Williams’ ire. And as he noted in the postgame press conference, 13 games into the season is too late to be making November-caliber mistakes.
Moreover, even when the Heels did get shots at the rim, they converted only 39 percent in the second half.
Williams assured the media that the Heels would suffer through some very demanding practices in the coming days, their reprieve being that another game is scheduled — against lightweight Albany — on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.
To see the UNC/Rutgers box score, click here.