CHAPEL HILL--- Although UNC didn't blow out Gardner-Webb Friday night in its season opener in the Smith Center, the Tar Heels were never really in trouble, asserting a considerable size advantage into a 76-59 triumph over the Bulldogs to improve to 1-0 on the young campaign.
"We feel very good about the win. It was great to get 10 guys double figures in minutes. We did try to do a lot of things with a lot of different lineups," said UNC head coach Roy Williams after the game.
Gardner-Webb, a veteran squad returning all five starters, never allowed UNC to put the game outrageously out of hand, although the Tar Heels cruised to a 12-point halftime lead (38-26) and held off the Bulldogs over the final 20 minutes, stretching the lead to as much as 19 points while not letting them get any closer than nine points down the stretch.
"Gardner-Webb, they have an experienced team, and they made us look bad at times. All in all, congratulate Gardner-Webb. They did some nice things, and it was a great help for us, and hopefully they gained some things from it as well," Williams added.
"I'm disappointed in how we played, but I'm not disappointed in my team. I think it was a good night for us. I think we learned a lot, and hopefully we'll be able to do some things tomorrow morning in practice to help us get better, and we'll need to be better on Sunday (UNC's next game)," he continued.
Carolina enjoyed a dominating 52-28 advantage in points in the paint, while also dominating Gardner-Webb in rebounding by three-to-two (48 to 32).
James Michael McAdoo was an unstoppable force for UNC, scoring 26 points to go along with 14 rebounds.
It was McAdoo's first double-figure rebounding effort in the Tar Heel blue and white, and a clear sign that he's ready for all the preseason hype as the expected go-to player on this North Carolina roster.
"James Michael, 26 and 14, those are pretty big-time numbers. I'd like him to be able to do it without having to take 20 shots," Williams said.
"We ran a lot of plays for him. He missed the dunk and some things like that and he started cramping at the end, but we've got to have the other guys be more active on the backboards, and not just him (McAdoo)."
"I just wanted to be active, and really when I was out there be productive, whether it was taking a charge, getting rebounds, or running the floor and getting an easy putback," McAdoo said. "Some of the shots I took didn't go down, but I just tried to do everything on offense to help the team win."
McAdoo was particularly impressed with the way he rebounded against the Bulldogs.
"I'm a bad rebounder. It's something I really, really work on, so that's what I was most excited about, getting my first double-digit rebounding game," he said.
Friday night may have been McAdoo's introduction to center stage as Carolina's primary offensive threat, but it was the first-ever time that UNC's four freshmen took the court in the Smith Center for a game.
The quartet had some growing pains but on the whole they played well, as Marcus Paige, Joel James, Brice Johnson, and J.P. Tokoto combined for 24 points, with all four of them scoring six points each. Johnson added five rebounds, James four, Paige three, and Tokoto two rebounds.
Tokoto also had a fast break slam dunk that really got the crowd going at one point during the second half.
"The four freshmen, (that was) the first time they were in there, so I think it was good for them," said Williams.
"I think they (the freshmen) did great," added McAdoo. "J.P. was active. He was able to get in the passing lanes and got a couple dunks."
"Marcus did great," he continued. "He has a lot on his shoulders right now, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him tonight. And Joel, he's getting a lot better from when he first stepped on this campus. He's coming along with great speed. I think they all did well."
"A lot of things we worked on (in practice) translated to the game, and that was good for us," said Paige. "We turned the ball over a lot and gave up some second-chance points in the second half, but I think we did a good job overall of translating some of the stuff we've done in practice to the game."
"I had pregame jitters, but being my official first game, it was a dream come true," added Tokoto. "I went in there, crashed the boards like he (Coach Williams) wanted me to, distributed the ball, found open teammates, and I feel we did a good job tonight doing that."
"It was very exciting (playing the first game in the Smith Center). I loved it," said Johnson. "I could have done a lot better, but I did some good things. I had to do a little bit more on the defensive end. I just have to work on that in practice, and get better at whatever I need to get better at."
Although Carolina got the win and looked reasonably impressive in doing so, never really getting in big trouble against the Bulldogs, the stats show that this is clearly a team that has a lot of work to do.
The Tar Heels made a dreadful one of 12 three-pointers, including a dismal 1-for-10 shooting stretch in the second half.
Thanks to its superior size advantage UNC relentlessly worked the ball into the paint and the team shot just two first half three-pointers, but in the second half there was an uncomfortably large number of UNC bricks from long range.
In addition, UNC shot a below-average 9 of 19 (47.4 percent) from the free throw line.
Naturally these are things that Carolina has to improve on dramatically in order to be in position to make some noise in the ACC again this winter.
"I've been saying with Leslie (McDonald) and Reggie (Bullock) and P.J. (Hairston) we're a good shooting team. 1 for 12 doesn't look like it. Reggie was almost unselfish to a fault tonight. He's got to take a couple more of those shots, and guys have got to be willing to screen for him to get him open too," said Williams.
UNC returns to action Sunday afternoon with a 2:30 game against Florida Atlantic, so they're facing a quick turnaround.
The Tar Heels will practice Saturday morning before returning to the Smith Center floor the following afternoon for its second game in less than 48 hours.
"Everyone is saying that we're the underdog," said senior Dexter Strickland, who scored 13 points for UNC (second-most on the team) in his first game since January after suffering a knee injury last winter at Virginia Tech.
"They don't think that we'll be as successful as we were last year because we lost so many guys. I think this was for us to set a statement---for us to go out there and punch them in the mouth first before they do that to us."
"I think we still need to do a better job," Strickland continued. "We still have some areas we need to go over and get better at in practice, and we have a lot of work to do, but I think we have come a long way."