BROOKS MIGHT BE SEC­OND BIG MAN COACH WIL­LIAMS IS LOOK­ING FOR,

The News & Observer - - Sports - BY JONATHAN M. ALEXAN­DER jalexan­der@new­sob­server.com Jonathan Alexan­der, 919- 829- 4822; @jon­malexan­der

North Carolina’s play­ers filled the locker room with smiles Tues­day af­ter get­ting re­venge for last sea­son’s em­bar­rass­ing home loss to Wof­ford.

The Tar Heels’ 78-67 win over the Ter­ri­ers in the sea­son-opener didn’t come easy, how­ever. The game was tied with 11 min­utes left, be­fore grad­u­ate for­ward Cam John­son hit three 3s and Coby White hit one to help No. 8 UNC fin­ish the game on a 24-16 run.

“I thought we did some good things at the end of the game, re­ally pushed the lead,” said se­nior for­ward Luke Maye, who had a game-high 24 points. “… But we’ve got a lot of things to im­prove, a lot things to work on. It was a good first step for us.”

Here are three take­aways from UNC’s win over Wof­ford.

1 UNC doesn’t al­ways have to go small.

Coach Roy Wil­liams said in Oc­to­ber that he wants to play two big men on the floor at the same time this sea­son. It’s his pre­ferred style of play.

One of those big men is the 6-8, 240-pound Maye, but Wil­liams needs one of his re­turn­ing sopho­mores – Gar­ri­son Brooks, Ster­ling Man­ley, Walker Miller or Bran­don Huff­man – to step up, too.

Brooks, a 6-9, 230- pound for­ward, could be that player if he con­tin­ues to play like he did against Wof­ford, where he scored 20, had five re­bounds, in­clud­ing three on of­fense, and was 9-for-15 from the floor.

Brooks, who av­er­aged 4.5 points per game last year, said he’s feel­ing more con­fi­dent this sea­son.

“It could be the be­gin­ning of some­thing good,” Brooks said, “I’ve just got to keep go­ing.”

Wil­liams said he started Brooks be­cause he has been the most de­pend­able of the four sopho­mores.

Brooks played in the post against Wof­ford, al­low­ing Maye to move around the floor, and play both in­side and out. Maye hit a variety of shots, and had Brooks to help with of­fen­sive re­bounds.

“I jumped on ev­ery­body ex­cept (Brooks) at half­time, be­cause in the first half, we took re­ally bad shots,” Wil­liams said. “Luke made one three that was a re­ally good shot. An­other one he made wasn’t a very good shot, but Gar­ri­son kept us in the game in the first half with his in­side play.”

Last sea­son, Wil­liams had trou­ble re­ly­ing on the younger big men, and used a small ball lineup that in­cluded Maye play­ing at cen­ter. It was not a nat­u­ral fit for Maye, who nor­mally played power for­ward, and he was some­times over­pow­ered on de­fense by play­ers who were big­ger.

2 Perime­ter de­fense should be bet­ter this sea­son.

Se­nior guard Kenny Wil­liams was dom­i­nant on de­fense, keeping Wof­ford se­nior guard Fletcher Magee to 21 points and 3-for-16 shoot- ing from be­hind the 3point line.

Fresh­man guard Coby White, ju­nior guard Sev­enth Woods and fresh­man wing Nas­sir Lit­tle played well on de­fense, too. Lit­tle had two big blocks. Woods dove on the floor for a steal in the first half. He fin­ished with two steals.

Against UNC, Wof­ford shot 38 per­cent from floor, and 25.7 per­cent from be­hind the 3-point line. Wof­ford sopho­more point guard Storm Mur­phy com­mit­ted four turnovers, and the Ter­ri­ers were held to 26 first-half points.

“I thought de­fen­sively, we were pretty good the whole game,” coach Wil­liams said.

If UNC’s de­fend­ers can stay in front of their men, they can force op­po­nents to take long shots, which should al­le­vi­ate some of the is­sues UNC had with de­fend­ing the rim last year. UNC blocked 11.2 per­cent of its op­po­nents’ shots last sea­son, which was 305 out of 351 Divi­sion I teams, ac­cord­ing to Ken Pomeroy’s met­rics.

3 Turnovers are still a prob­lem.

The Tar Heels’ big­gest is­sue against Wof­ford was their 15 turnovers. UNC turned the ball over on 21.5 per­cent (more than one-fifth) of its pos­ses­sions, ac­cord­ing to Ken Pomeroy’s met­rics. Wof­ford had nine turnovers, on 12.9 per­cent of its pos­ses­sions.

Some of UNC’s turnovers were un­forced, or came from bad de­ci­sions. The Tar Heels had five play­ers with two or more turnovers. Of the 10 play­ers with at least one minute against Wof­ford, only two – Lit­tle (20 min­utes) and Black (eight min­utes) – did not turn the ball over.

Nerves were a fac­tor for some play­ers. White, play­ing in his first col­lege game and run­ning point guard, had two turnovers, both in the first half.

“I was real ner­vous,” White said. “Prob­a­bly the (most) ner­vous I’ve ever been on a bas­ket­ball court.”

White said he thought the team had im­proved since its 22 turnover ex­hi­bi­tion against Mount Olive on Nov. 2.

“We had lit­tle slip-ups, but we play at a fast pace.”

BOB LEVERONE AP

North Carolina’s Coby White and Gar­ri­son Brooks, right, try to re­cover a loose ball against Wof­ford’s Cameron Jack­son dur­ing the first half of Tues­day night’s sea­son-opener in Spar­tan­burg, S.C.

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