CHAPEL HILL--- North Carolina found itself in the middle of an interesting challenge Friday evening it its exhibition with local opponent Shaw University.
The visitors from Raleigh came in and played Carolina quite tough for over a half, taking the lead on multiple occasions and keeping the Smith Center faithful restless for over an hour.
The Bears led the Tar Heels by a basket (43-41) around the 16-minute mark of the second half before Carolina embarked on a 33-4 run to pull away for an 81-54 triumph.
"I thought it was really a good night for us. I even liked it when they took the lead there because those are the kinds of things that we're going to face all year, so I liked the way our guys responded," said head coach Roy Williams afterwards.
UNC was paced by sophomore All-America candidate power forward James Michael McAdoo, who led the team with 16 points and eight rebounds.
McAdoo was one of three Tar Heels who finished in double figures in scoring.
"It (the exhibition game) gave the crowd a fans a taste. Hopefully we're nothing (later in the season) like we were today," McAdoo said.
Although the Tar Heels trailed at multiple points and were genuinely tested much of the game by Shaw---something that might be disconcerting to a lot of UNC supporters---Coach Williams remained remarkably cool and calm throughout Friday's ball game.
After the game it seemed he was pleased that his young, experienced team got a challenge from Shaw, and even more satisfied that the Tar Heels responded well to it defensively.
Going into the final media timeout at the 3:12 mark of the second half, Shaw had scored just six points over a span of over 12 minutes.
"The first half they (Shaw) were 5-for-11 from the three-point line because we gave them such open shots, so I talked to them the second half about challenging the shot but also doing a better job guarding the dribble. I think we did that."
"That (defense) has really been an emphasis in practice. Going into the game just focusing on being a better defensive team than past Carolina teams and we have to make up for some offensive firepower that we aren't going to have," added McAdoo.
Carolina was at one point 1-for-11 shooting from three-point range, but a barrage of eight straight points midway through the second half by P.J. Hairston, including two three balls, allowed the Tar Heels to save some face behind the arc.
Although UNC was 3-for-16 from outside against Shaw, Coach Williams is confident that the team will improve in that area.
"We didn't shoot the ball very well. I said last year we were going to be a really good shooting team, and I think this is a team that's going to be even better than that," Williams said.
Along with the excellent play of McAdoo, Carolina also got a real lift from freshman Joel James, who had 13 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes, as well as fellow rookie Brice Johnson, who had eight points and six boards in 13 minutes.
Leslie McDonald was the other Tar Heel in double figures with 12 points to go along with three assists and a rebound. It was McDonald's first official appearance in a UNC uniform in two seasons after missing all of last year coming off knee surgery.
"It felt great running up and down the court, defending guys on the other team," McDonald said.
Williams went with nine different rotations in the first half without using the same one twice, but the Tar Heels seemed to be a particularly more effective team against the undersized Bears with the big newcomer James on the court.
After his basket in transition made it 50-44 at one point midway through the second half, UNC held a 35-3 advantage with James on the court.
"Joel's a big body. He gives us that big presence inside. He's going to mess it up sometimes, but I think that he does give us that inside," said Williams.
Marcus Paige officially took the torch left behind by Kendall Marshall and entered the UNC starting lineup at point guard, finishing with six points and six rebounds.
J.P. Tokoto added five rebounds and just two points but his two points might have been the most memorable of the evening, as he leapt over multiple players for a putback slam dunk that made the score 71-46 and served as an impressive exclamation point on Carolina's 33-4 spurt.
"The freshman did well. Marcus, he played well for us. Brice, he came off the bench and helped up on the boards. Joel played with a lot of heart out there. J.P. getting rebounds and put-backs. That's their game. That's what they do. They score," said junior Reggie Bullock.
So while it may have been a little closer than many might have preferred Friday night, in the end the Tar Heels got a good workout and a good end result.
And a lot of guys got to make meaningful contributions in a solid victory. In the end you can't ask for much more as a coach.
"It was good for us to get in front of a crowd," Williams said.