It wasn't always pretty, but the North Carolina men's basketball team took care of business in its 91-80 exhibition win over Barton College on Friday night at the Smith Center.
Luke Maye led all scorers with 18 points, Theo Pinson added 14 points and three assists and Garrison Brooks led the freshman with 13 points and nine rebounds. Rookie Jalek Felton had a game-high seven assists, while graduate transfer Cam Johnson finished with 11 points in his Tar Heel debut.
North Carolina's offense, which shot 46.8 percent and finished with 16 fast-break points, looked sloppy at times but showed some fluidity in half-court sets and in transition. The Tar Heels held the Bulldogs to 38.2 percent shooting on 76 shots, but much of that was a function of competition rather than effective man-to-man defense.
Here are the five most important takeaways from Friday's unofficial "season opener," the first game action for the Tar Heels since winning the 2017 national title:
Maye, the force
The Tar Heels' clear weakness heading into this season lies in the post, where only junior Luke Maye returns from last season's regular rotation. On Friday, Maye looked ready for the challenge.
The 6-foot-8 forward scored 18 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to pace UNC's frontcourt. Maye was aggressive in the paint, boxing out the smaller Bulldog big men and muscling his way through the lane more often than he did last season. He opened the game shooting 6-for-6 and drew six free throws in 20 minutes, making his first four.
In Wednesday's ACC media day in Charlotte, Maye said he wants to be known for more than "the shot" that sent North Carolina to the Final Four. He'll have plenty of chances this season, and if he plays like he did Friday, he'll have no trouble making his name.
Not Justin Jackson, but...
UNC's shiny new graduate transfer, junior forward Cam Johnson, didn't have the game many hoped he might filling the shoes of departed Tar Heel Justin Jackson. But he showed flashes of promise offensively.
Johnson, in his first game action with the Tar Heels, finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting. He didn't hit his first 3-pointer until 1:37 left in the first half, but that shot from the left corner gave him 10 points on 50 percent shooting at intermission.
The second half wasn't kind to Johnson — just one point on four attempts — but the 6-foot-8 Pittsburgh transfer has drawn rave reviews from his teammates in the offseason as a smooth shooter and comfortable offensive weapon. Come the regular season, Johnson should fit in just fine.
New kids on the block
Roy Williams has joked that he's got three freshman post players who, if combined, still wouldn't have the makings of a solid starter. That might be true, but Garrison Brooks is making his case otherwise.
The freshman forward from Auburn, Ala., put forth the most impressive display from UNC's three rookie bigs, turning a starting spot into 13 points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes of action. More importantly, Brooks looked comfortable with his back to the basket and showed nice patience getting into offensive sets, both paramount if Williams insists on playing inside-out this season.
The other two big men — Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman — each showed potential for niche contributions, if not full-fledged rotation roles. Manley tied Huffman for third among Tar Heels with seven rebounds in just eight minutes, adding eight points on four shot attempts. Manley mainly cleaned up his teammates' misses, but his three offensive rebounds were promising for a team looking to replace Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks inside.
Huffman looked the least polished of the three, but his ferocious play was evident nearly every time he was near the ball. The freshman had five blocks — many of which were spiked into the Smith Center court volleyball-style — and he also added a two-handed rim-rocker that rattled the entire hoop, as teammates say he's prone to do.
Neither Manley nor Huffman looked ready for regular minutes the way Meeks, Hicks, Maye or Bradley had last season. But Williams has a few months to work out the kinks in his post rotation before it really matters.
Video game numbers
Thanks to Joel Berry's video-game outburst, the Tar Heels will have to get creative at point guard for the next four weeks. The experiment started tonight.
Seventh Woods got the starting nod, playing 19 minutes, but he didn't showcase the same confidence he's had throughout the offseason. The sophomore from Columbia, S.C., finished with four points on 2-for-6 shooting and added just two assists to one turnover. Williams said his young starter dribbled too much and didn't play how he'd expect after Williams' vote of confidence to put Woods the starting lineup.
Conversely, Jalek Felton impressed in his first game action with North Carolina, where his uncle Raymond Felton starred in the mid-2000s. The younger Felton forced it at times early in the game, and he didn't attack the basket the way Williams wanted him to. But the freshman — also from Columbia, S.C. — finished with a game-high seven assists to just one turnover in 21 minutes, even if he boasted just five points from the floor.
Eight months later
In his first game back since injuring his knee last February, Kenny Williams could barely overcome the jitters.
It showed a bit on the court — Williams went 1-for-6 in 18 minutes — but the junior shooting guard was all over the court in his first game action in over eight months. Williams drove with reckless abandon and looked comfortable on the perimeter, pump-faking effectively on one fast-break possession and whipping a beautiful assist to Maye from the same spot on another. His defense, while still in exhibition mode, was also tenacious all the way to the mid-court line.
He hit the ground hard on a few occasions but showed no signs of wear from the right knee injury that twice required surgery. If Williams can return to his early-season form from 2017-18, the Tar Heels will have essentially a free piece in addition to the core from last year's championship team.
photos by Smith Hardy
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Luke Maye's height. He is 6-foot-8. We apologize for the error.