Former Tar Heel Jeff Lebo brought his East Carolina Pirates to the Dean Dome for the first time to face off against his former coach Roy Williams. UNC commit Isiah Hicks was in the stands to take in the game sitting behind the Tar Heel bench.
Brice Johnson got the start inside today after fellow freshman Joel James started the last two games as Roy Williams continues to flip flop his starting center.
Coming into the game on average the Tar Heels took about 30% of their field goals from beyond three point range but in the first half of the Heels 28 attempts only four were from beyond the arc. UNC did a much better job of attacking the basket and getting out in transition taking higher percentage shots.
Defensively Carolina did a tremendous job against the Pirates who came in ranked in the top 30 in the nation in scoring holding ECU to 26 points on just 29% shooting. UNC used the pressure defense effectively and took the Pirates out of their offense and were able to control the pace from the tip.
Carolina was led by James Michael McAdoo with 12 first half points, Reggie Bullock with 10 and Dexter Strickland with seven who did a little bit of everything on both ends of the court including a very impressive finish in transition with his off hand. Seven different Tar Heels scored who oddly had just five assists on their 16 field goals after having 30 on 31 FGs last Saturday.
We have seen UNC play a few terrific halves this season and the first 20 minutes of this game was one of their best overall on both ends of the floor this season. The burning question heading into the second half was how UNC would respond with a 16 point lead. Would they be able to continue the intensity and forget about the scoreboard and execute or would we see them fall back on their immaturity and allow the Pirates back into the game.
Brice Johnson started the second half as the center position continues to be an area of discussion for Carolina. Marcus Paige picked up two quick fouls in the second half and committed a couple early turnovers as ECU went on a 7-0 run cutting the lead to 11.
UNC kept the fast pace early in the second half but the defensive execution wasn’t the same and they were a bit sloppy on the offensive end scoring just five points in the first six minutes of the half as the Pirates cut the lead to seven.
After a PJ Hairston three put the lead back to double digits, Roy called a timeout and gave his players an earful after yet another lazy defensive effort. An interesting tell of where Roy’s head is in terms of the rotation, as the defensive intensity waned he went with freshman JP Tokoto who had an excellent game on both ends of the floor providing energy.
For the first time this season when UNC went small they all small taking all the big men off the court and going with five perimeter players at once. The all small lineup didn’t last long with McAdoo returning to court a couple minutes later presumably after hearing from Roy about boxing out and playing with more intensity.
After the timeout UNC picked up the intensity and execution after committing nine defensive fouls in the first ten minutes of the second half. After several hustle baskets by Carolina ECU coach Jeff Lebo called his own settle down timeout with eight minutes remaining and Carolina up 15.
The Pirates would not go away cutting the lead to ten after a couple quick baskets before a TV timeout with four minutes remaining. ECU really played some poised basketball down the stretch and hustled for every rebound and loose ball while UNC seemed to lose focus looking to instead of secure the defensive rebound as ECU cut the lead to single digits inside of three minutes to play. The trend continued each time UNC got the lead above single digits the Pirates would make a run. ECU took advantage of several defensive lapses and turnovers late and made it a four point game with 25 seconds to play perfectly illustrating how frustrating this team can be.
Final Score: UNC 93 ECU 87
A very encouraging take away from this game was the Heels shooting from the free throw line, UNC went 18 of 23.
PJ Hairston gets my vote for Play of the Game with 18 points on 6-10 shooting who came up with big bucket after big bucket and got some clutch rebounds. Freshman JP Tokoto may have been the most efficient with ten points on 5-5 shooting and five rebounds including two big offensive put backs. Dexter Strickland had another terrific all around game with 12 points, seven assists and four boards.