North Carolina had trouble pushing the tempo and setting up preseason All-American Marcus Paige.
Coach Roy Williams figured it was a good season-opening lesson for his sixth-ranked Tar Heels, who beat North Carolina Central 76-60 on Friday night.
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”I like the fact that you play a pretty doggone good team and you have some struggles,” Williams said. ”Everybody’s got to look at themselves and the things we made mistakes (on), they’ve got to learn from it and try to change it.”
Brice Johnson scored 12 points to lead the balanced Tar Heels (1-0), who scored the first 11 points and led by double figures nearly all night. UNC shot 44 percent, though Paige managed just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting while seeing some box-and-one defensive attention.
”I think we could’ve got Marcus open a lot more,” said sophomore Kennedy Meeks, who scored 10. ”There were more opportunities for us to set those easy screens just so he could get an open shot and get in a rhythm.”
J.P. Tokoto also scored 10 for UNC, which won its 10th straight opener.
Anthony McDonald scored 16 points to lead the Eagles (0-1), who entered with a reshaped roster following a 28-win season that included a trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Eagles earned their first win against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent last year (North Carolina State), but the preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference favorite couldn’t follow up and fell to 1-14 against ACC teams.
Coach LeVelle Moton said his team would’ve preferred to run more, but slowed the tempo against the fast-paced Tar Heels. His team had also battled numerous injuries of late, which limited them to just six players at a recent practice.
”We were just nervous in the first half,” Moton said of the slow start. ”The look on my kids’ faces, I know that look. So we just needed to settle down.”
N.C. Central got no closer than six in the first half and trailed 28-19 at half. They never got closer after the break and finished the game shooting 32 percent.
N.C. Central: The Eagles lost seven letter winners from last year while bringing in eight newcomers, including three transfers who sat out last season. … Top returning scorer Jordan Parks (10.1 points) managed seven while battling foul trouble. … Karamo Jawara and Dante Holmes each scored 11 points.
North Carolina: The win marked the 1,000th for Williams as an assistant or head coach. … UNC struggled at the line last year at 63 percent and made 20 of 30 free throws (67 percent) Friday. … Sophomore point guard Stilman White played late in the game, returning after missing two seasons while on a Mormon mission in Utah.
N.C. Central hosts College of Faith on Tuesday.
North Carolina hosts Robert Morris on Sunday as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis event.
UNC junior big man Joel James scored all seven of his points after halftime, more than any game last season. That included one stretch when he hit a turnaround jumper while being fouled, then ran the court to draw a foul and hit two free throws.
The game marked the debut for UNC freshmen Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. Jackson finished with nine points, Pinson scored four and Berry had three. Jackson started as expected, though Pinson got the surprise start over Tokoto because Williams said Tokoto made a ”mistake” in practice this week.
Neither team shot the ball well from outside, combining to go 2-for-14 from 3-point range in the first half and 7-for-28 (25 percent) for the game.