No. 9 North Carolina 81, Rutgers 67

North Carolina’s 17-point second-half lead was down to four with

about 2 minutes left when Dexter Strickland got the ball in the

corner. The freshman hesitated, then launched a 3-pointer that

dropped through the net and sent everyone in the Smith Center into

celebration.

Everyone except Roy Williams.

“I hated the shot,” the Hall of Fame coach said, “but it went

in and talent took over above coaching and intelligence.”

Strickland’s 3 was key in helping the ninth-ranked Tar Heels

hold off Rutgers 81-67 on Monday night. But perhaps more than

anything, it illustrated the apparent disconnect between what

Williams wants and what his young squad is giving him – a

surprising problem for a team that is 13 games into the season and

two weeks from Atlantic Coast Conference play.

Yes, Strickland scored a season-high 18 points to lead six

players in double figures and the Tar Heels pulled away late for a

double-digit victory. But the final score doesn’t tell what

Williams sees: a team that looked confused defensively and

struggled to make the right decisions with the ball.

At one point, Williams was so irked that he slammed his right

hand down on his chair and slouched in his seat on the bench after

the Tar Heels had to burn a timeout with about 3 minutes left.

“I’m really not in a good mood about any dumb things that they

did right now,” a seething Williams said.

The absence of fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard didn’t help

matters. The versatile swingman, who is averaging 11 points per

game, sprained his right ankle on a drive to the basket during

Saturday’s practice, with the school announcing Monday afternoon he

would sit out against Rutgers. He was on the bench, but walked at

times with the aid of a crutch and is considered doubtful for

Wednesday night’s home game against Albany.

But still, with guys like senior Deon Thompson (14 points) and

sophomore big man Ed Davis (11 points, 15 rebounds) coming off

significant roles in last year’s national championship run, it’s

not like North Carolina should look so befuddled, either.

“We have the talent to be a very, very good team and have all

the pieces to be a very, very good team,” Thompson said. “What we

do in practice, we just have to do in games. We do everything

perfect in practice and then we get in the games and then it seems

like we just forget everything.”

Mike Rosario scored 22 points to lead the Scarlet Knights (9-3),

who came in with a six-game winning streak – the program’s longest

in eight years – though it came largely against a soft schedule.

That didn’t stop Rutgers from giving the Tar Heels plenty of reason

to feel frustrated.

“I really like what this team is doing,” Rutgers coach Fred

Hill said. “But I’m an old-school guy. I never like when we lose a

game, ever.”

The Tar Heels pushed a 39-33 halftime lead into a 61-44 margin

with about 12 minutes left only to see the Scarlet Knights inch

their way back into the game. Rosario’s driving score made it 71-67

with 2:08 left and awoke what had been a slumbering home crowd.

Ten seconds later, Strickland launched the 3 that was tolerable

to Williams only because it went in.

“I absolutely understand why he’s mad,” Strickland said.

“Like the 3, I think it would have been a better decision if I had

given it to Deon (inside). It’s little stuff like that, where you

can make the play better, that he’s mad at.”

North Carolina helped itself with a 45-34 rebound advantage,

including 17 on the offensive end that led to 17 second-chance

points. The Tar Heels went 24 of 35 at the free throw line,

including 25 attempts in the second half after getting 7-footers

Hamady Ndiaye and Brian Okam into foul trouble and reaching the

bonus just 4 minutes after the break.

Rutgers missed 20 of 23 3-point attempts, including several that

could have put more pressure on the defending national champions in

those final unsteady minutes.

“We’re going to see what happens (at practice Tuesday),” Tar

Heels point guard Larry Drew II said. “I don’t think it’s going to

look too good. But we deserve whatever (Williams) throws at

us.”

The Tar Heels wore their throwback uniforms – which include a

touch of red – from the 1957 national championship season for the

second time as part of a season-long celebration of the program’s

centennial season.