UNC-Oklahoma State features point guard showdown
Two of the nation's premier point guards will square off in a battle of unbeaten teams when No. 4 North Carolina faces Oklahoma State in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational on Tuesday at the Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii.
North Carolina (5-0) features a high-powered offense that averages 94.4 points per game. Oklahoma State (4-0) has been even more prolific, averaging 104.5 points and surpassing the century mark in each of its first four contests.
The Tar Heels' offense is orchestrated by junior point guard Joel Berry II, who has a pair of 23-point games this season, against Tulane and Long Beach State. Berry is averaging 16.5 points, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Sophomore point guard Jawun Evans has been sensational for Oklahoma State, averaging 23.3 points, 6.3 assists, four rebounds and three steals over the first four games. He had 34 points in the season opener against Campbell, and he added 35 points, six assists, five steals and four rebounds in a 98-90 victory over Connecticut on Monday in the opening round of the Maui Invitational.
“Now we've got a big-time challenge,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I told (the Tar Heels) it's the big leagues tomorrow because Oklahoma State was really, really impressive tonight.”
The Cowboys shot 45.9 percent from the field, made 12 of 20 from 3-point range and recorded 18 steals in their win over the Huskies.
“I thought we got off to a great start,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said. “I thought our defensive intensity was bothersome for them. And I love the fact we had 18 steals. That's a great number. That means we're being active and bothersome now.”
North Carolina shot 57.8 percent and established a season high in scoring in a 104-61 victory over host Chaminade in the first round of the tournament. The Tar Heels also amassed a massive 52-23 rebounding advantage.
“We're bigger. We're more gifted,” Williams said. “We were really challenged by them early, but over the course of the game, our size inside was probably the biggest factor.”
North Carolina, already without injured Theo Pinson and Luke Maye, received a scare when Brandon Robinson took an elbow to the face late in the first half against Chaminade. Robinson needed stitches for a cut on his lip, but he returned to the game midway through the second half.
The Tar Heels and Cowboys are vying for a spot in the finals in a tournament that features an impressive field. Georgetown, which upset No. 13 Oregon, and No. 16 Wisconsin, which knocked off Tennessee, square off in the other semifinal.
North Carolina was picked to finish second behind Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason media poll. Oklahoma State was picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 Conference.
“I think we have good players who are really good people who are trying to work really hard,” Underwood said. “I worry about all the predictions and the preseason stuff so little that I didn't even know we were picked seventh. It's not something I pay attention to, to be quite honest. We try to get better every day. We beat a very good UConn team (Monday), and (Tuesday), when you're in a tournament, you don't get very long to enjoy it.”