A depleted East Tennessee State squad came into the Dean Dome Saturday night as a huge underdog to the No. 20 North Carolina Tar Heels (7-2).
ETSU lost major components on its team earlier this year, as three key guys were held out of action Saturday night.
The Heels made sure to not let ETSU gain any confidence, as they took control quickly in the first half and never looked back, cruising to a 78-55 victory over East Tennessee State (2-5).
UNC came out looking to wear down the Buccaneers right at tip-off. Leslie McDonald, who had one of his finest games last week against UAB, was back on the sideline, but with a smile, as he was able to get the crowd going with his slick dance moves.
Marcus Paige came back to start at point guard, after being held out last week for a shoulder injury.
Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo, and Joel James started the game (it was James' second straight start in as many weeks) along with Paige.
The Tar Heels started off surprisingly, shooting four shots from the outside (all misses) before Bullock scored the first points with a runner in the lane.
Bullock's streaky shooting set the pace for UNC, scoring the first seven points of the game and grabbing some aggressive rebounds down low before the first TV timeout.
Roy Williams looked to get his players in and spread the wealth, as he made multiple substitutions seven minutes into the game.
With his personnel he has, Williams wore down ETSU early, pushing what was a two point deficit to a 16 point lead at the 11:51 mark.
The hot shooting from last week seemed to still be in the Heels blood flow, as McDonald, Bullock, and P.J. Hairston all drained three-point baskets, with a sweet kiss from the rim to help.
UNC put its half court pressure on the Buccaneers throughout the first half, which affected ETSU tremendously, creating 13 turnovers in the first half (22 total turnovers for the game).
J.P. Tokoto was able to show off his first air-flying talents at the 7:00 mark as Strickland faked one direction, dribbled across the court, and lobbed a beautiful dime to Tokoto as he glided through the air for the slam. It wouldn't be the last time the fans witnessed his ability.
With a great balance of attack, both from the perimeter and down in the paint, the Tar Heels blew out ETSU in the first half, leading by as many as 32 points, with the halftime score being 42-12.
The 12 points in the first half were the fewest points allowed in a half since Williams became the head coach in 2003-2004. The 19.2 percent shooting also was the lowest in a half since NC Central on Nov. 11, 2009.
The strange thing to Williams was that his team didn't focus too much on defense last week.
"We missed so many shots, and the strange thing is, we didn't practice very much this week, but we spent a lot of time shooting," talking about the Tar Heels offense Saturday night.
If one wasn't at the game, take a look at the statistics for the first half for ETSU and how UNC completely took over, especially on the defensive side.
Field Goal Percentage: 19.2% (5-26)
3-pt Percentage: 20% (2-10)
Assists/ Turnovers: 4/ 13
Free Throw Percentage: 0% (0-5)
Even though this was a team with inexperience and injuries, defense really stepped up its game Saturday night, easily the Tar Heels best performance on that side of the court.
After shooting 48.6 percent from the floor in the first half, UNC wasn't able to stroke it as well in the second, only shooting 36.8 percent in the second half.
However, the game was so far out of reach at that point, UNC put the cruise control button on.
North Carolina was out scored in the second half by seven points (43-36), but the Heels were never in danger throughout the contest.
In the end, UNC cruised to a 78-55 victory over the Buccaneers, but it wasn't the score that the fans will be happy about and remember.
Three categories in the game really stood out in the contest and should have the UNC faithful smiling.
1) The defensive intensity, especially in the first half, was a complete 180 degree turnaround from a few weeks ago
2) the balance attack from the Tar Heels, with 11 players scoring
3) the fans finally witnessing the hype about Tokoto and his high flying ability.
McDonald led the team for the third time this year in scoring, putting 14 points in the box score.
When looking at the box score, one thing really jumps out quickly; the Tar Heels had 30 assists on 31 made field goals, with the only miss being an alley-oop that McDonald couldn't handle at first but scored on the rebound.
Williams seemed pleased with the distribution of the ball Saturday night.
"It shows that when we move the ball we are very successful," Williams said.
"Most of the tiem if you have 30 assists you are going to score 110, 120 points, but we didn't do a very good job of all those other times."
Bullock even seemed pleased with the distribution.
"I believe we're a very unselfish team. We try to share the ball to the best of our ability. We always try to find the open shooters and get the ball inside to the big man to finish strong."
What one would have thought before the game, with UNC having a huge height advantage, the post players only recorded a total of 28 points down low.
Bench play was a huge contribution though tonight, as the bench scored 45 points against ETSU.
UNC will continue this week with exams, not allowing them to practice as much as they would like to.
The Tar Heels will be back in action, when in-state rival East Carolina comes into town Dec. 15 before their road challenge against the Texas Longhorns.