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November 19, 2012North Carolina didn't have to wonder long about whether it would have jet lag in its first game of this year's EA Sports Maui Invitational, as the Tar heels came out and overwhelmed Mississippi State with a dominant first half performance to move on to Tuesday's quarterfinal round with a 95-49 victory in the Lahaina Civic Center.
With the win, UNC moves on to play Butler in the second round, who advanced thanks to a heart-stopping buzzer-beater by Rotnei Clarke that pushed them over Marquette, 72-71.
UNC (4-0) made 13 of its first 18 shots in building a commanding 31-8 advantage midway through the first half, overwhelming Mississippi State with its superior size, speed, quickness, and overall ability.
"We just had too many players for them," UNC head coach Roy Williams said immediately after the game to the Associated Press. "We made shots, and everything looked good."
The Tar Heels finished the game shooting a healthy 47.4 percent (37 of 78) from the floor, including an impressive 15 of 32 (46.9 percent) from behind the arc.
Defensively UNC held the smaller Bulldogs to a woeful 28.3 percent shooting clip (17 of 60).
Combining its stellar shooting with lights-out defense, the Tar Heels made quick work of the Bulldogs, who were playing without starting point guard and team leader Jalen Steele, who is out several weeks with a fractured right wrist.
The Tar Heels immediately asserted its dominance over MSU, taking an early 9-0 lead and quickly thereafter pushing to a double-digit advantage with a 15-4 cushion.
James Michael McAdoo, on his way to another solid outing, had a sequence of six straight points during this stretch to help the Tar Heels take control.
A 17-2 run during the first ten minutes settled the issue for UNC, which allowed them to play roughly three-quarters of the afternoon with the outcome well in hand and without the pressure of having to play down the stretch with the game on the line.
But Carolina continued to play hard and with a purpose, dominating its overmatched opponent with basket after basket after basket.
UNC finished the first half with eight three-pointers in 14 attempts, including two daggers late in the half by P.J. Hairston, which gave the Tar Heels a whopping 49-17 halftime cushion.
Hairston's final three-pointer of the first half was the most incredible play of the game, and one of the more memorable long-range baskets in recent memory by the Tar Heels, as the sophomore stole an MSU inbounds pass in the final seconds and flung it from the far free throw line, watching the ball hit the backboard and bank in for a crowd-pleasing finale to Carolina's strong half.
Remarkably, Mississippi State's leading scorer over the first 20 minutes had just four points.
With the game well in hand early, there were plenty of moments in which the Tar Heels were able to go into cruise control down the stretch, which surely didn't improve Williams' mood.
While each win is a win a coach has to savor in the moment, Williams has been around long enough to know that lopsided games early in the season is a chance to prepare for the close battles to come in the winter once ACC play gets going.
But even though Mississippi State played more improved in the second half than the first, they weren't able to put a serious dent into Carolina's substantial lead, which hovered around 30 points for most of the second half and then expanded.
The Tar Heels built to the lead with more impressive outside shooting, as a pair of back-to-back three-balls by Hairston made it 80-38 between the six and five-minute mark of the second half.
Hairston finished the game with 18 points and four three-pointers, making him one of five Tar Heels in double figures in scoring. They were led by Leslie McDonald's 21 points off the bench, in addition to 16 points by Reggie Bullock and 10 points each from Dexter Strickland and McAdoo.
Stay tuned for more postgame coverage here at Tar Heel Illustrated.