CHAPEL HILL--- North Carolina didn't play like a team battling the doldrums of exam time Saturday afternoon, at least in the first half, as the Tar Heels came out and shot 67 percent from the floor over the first eight minutes and 55.2 percent in the first half.
And while things got decidedly rougher in the second half, UNC continued to make just enough shots and play just enough defense on its way to a 93-87 victory over East Carolina in the Smith Center.
"Don't know where to start," said UNC head coach Roy Williams immediately afterwards. "It was a little frustrating out there to say the least. But it's another game. It's another opportunity to get better."
"We looked like we hadn't practiced all week, and we didn't do a lot of practicing, but still, it's enough (for the win."
The Tar Heels (8-2) took control quickly, building an early advantage against the Pirates (6-2), and even though East Carolina played well early in the second half and actually pulled within seven points with just over 15 minutes to play and four points in the final minute, UNC hung tough down the stretch to hold the Pirates at bay.
Playing in just its third game over the past 15 days, the Tar Heels enjoyed a decisive 20-11 rebounding margin over the smaller Pirates in the first half, and committed just five turnovers over the first 20 minutes of action in building a 42-26 halftime cushion.
Also impressive was the fact that UNC made three out of its four three-pointer attempts in the first half.
James Michael McAdoo got off to a hot start for Carolina, scoring 12 first half points on four-of-eight shooting and four free throws, on his way to a game-high 19 points on the afternoon.
But the Tar Heels had to give ECU some credit, for Jeff Lebo, the former UNC standout turned Pirates head coach, brought a resilient squad to Chapel Hill that fought relentlessly and refused to get run out of the gymnasium.
"Congratulate Jeff and his team," said Williams. "They kept fighting, kept fighting. We gave them a lot of opportunities, screwing things up a bit."
"I thought that we battled hard," added Lebo, who got a standing ovation from the UNC faithful before the game.
"They (UNC) have a very good offensive team and I thought we did some good things out there. They made some key plays coming down the stretch."
Just when it looked as though Carolina might run away with it, East Carolina came out inspired and out-scored UNC 14-5 to start the second half, pulling within 47-40 before a P.J. Hairston three-pointer stopped the bleeding for the Tar Heels.
Shortly after Hairston's three, which re-gave Carolina a double-digit advantage, Coach Williams called timeout and vocally let his team have hit, criticizing the defensive effort and overall lack of intensity over the first six minutes of the second half.
Over the next six minutes the teams went back and forth, with UNC holding leads of approximately a dozen to 10 points during most of this stretch.
But then the Tar Heels put together a decisive flurry around the midway point of the second half, forcing a Lebo timeout with his team trailing 65-50 around the 8:00 mark.
But Carolina never could get its customary blowout, as ECU kept making shots and making enough plays defensively to keep UNC from dominating.
In the final minute ECU made a desperate push to pull as close as 89-85, but they were unable to get any closer, as a Leslie McDonald slam dunk in the last 30 seconds sealed the deal.
A win is a win for the Tar Heels, but certainly Coach Williams will be concerned about the fact that ECU scored 61 second half points, most of his era at UNC.
Stay tuned for much more on UNC's victory over the Pirates here at Tar Heel Illustrated.