GREENVILLE, S.C. – North Carolina coach Roy Williams got the question he knew he would get in his team’s first press conference here in Greenville. The media wanted to know about how the Tar Heels’ season ended last year, and what kind of motivation it would offer for this year.
“The way that last year ended, meaning the final shot that we lost the national championship game, I’m hoping that motivated them,” said Williams. “And we talked about it, providing some motivation or fuel to work extremely hard in the offseason.”
Mission accomplished – for now, at least.
After a somewhat surprising start in which Williams’ Tar Heels trailed Texas Southern 10-8 just over three minutes into the game, North Carolina stomped on the gas pedal. Carolina went on a 14-0 run, quickly pulling away from the Tigers in a dominant 103-64 victory.
“Generally we’re very pleased, to say the least, to still be here and be advancing on a Saturday, or Sunday — what day is today, Friday? So I guess we play Sunday,” said Williams. “I think we got off to a good start. (We) shared the ball early and got the ball inside. We felt like we had a big advantage inside. We wanted to get there and we did.”
That tight stretch of the first half quickly became a distant memory. North Carolina (28-7) did see its lead sliced to nine points at 31-22 at the 7:31 mark, before another Tar Heel burst ensued. Williams’ crew closed the half on a 21-7 surge, with everything seemingly going its way. The true cap on the first half for the Heels came on the final shot of the period. Joel Berry, who missed his first five shots, drained a walk-off triple at the horn to give his club a 52-27 halftime lead.
Texas Southern (23-12) saw the second half begin much as the first had ended, as the Tigers managed just nine points over the half’s first seven minutes. The Carolina lead quickly ballooned, as Texas Southern found itself unable to draw closer. A Theo Pinson layup at the 17:26 mark gave Carolina its first 30-point advantage of the contest at 59-29, and the lead would shrink no further.
“We knew we were playing probably one of the best teams in the country today, for sure, but I’m proud of my team for what we did this season,” said Texas Southern coach Mike Davis. “Like I told our guys, we can’t let this take away from winning more games than anybody’s won in school history and winning the conference tournament and the regular season. North Carolina is just at a totally different level than where we are as a basketball team.”
Forward Justin Jackson led Carolina’s six double-digit scorers, knocking home 21 points, including five three-pointers. All five conversions from distance occurred in the opening twenty, and Williams spoke of some redemption for Jackson, too.
“(I liked for) Justin to see the ball go in the basket,” said Williams. “I mean, he did. He just put too much pressure on himself and tried to do too much possibly, which you love that, you like a guy that tries to step up.”
Forward Isaiah Hicks added 17 on 8-for-12 shooting, with Kennedy Meeks tallying 13 and Tony Bradley 12. Nate Britt and Luke Maye scored 10 apiece.
Kevin Scott led Texas Southern with 19 points. Demontrae Jefferson totaled 13.
The top-seeded Tar Heels advance to Sunday’s Round of 32 action, where they will face off with eighth-seeded Arkansas. The Razorbacks defeated Seton Hall, 77-71, in Friday’s other early first-round contest. The game time for Sunday has yet to be announced.
Williams won’t let Friday’s victory relax his team, though.
“There’s a game on Sunday,” said Williams. “Whatever happened today can give you confidence, make you feel good. But you still have to play that second game.”
#1 NORTH CAROLINA 103, #16 TEXAS SOUTHERN 64
TEXAS SOUTHERN (23-12): Jones 3-5 0-0 6, McCloud 0-3 0-0 0, Lofton 2-11 5-6 9, Jefferson 6-15 0-0 13, Scott 6-14 3-4 19, Bynum 1-1 0-0 3, Robinson 2-4 2-2 7, Walker 2-6 2-2 6, Bennett 0-1 0-0 0, Washington 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 22-60 13-16 64.
NORTH CAROLINA (28-7): Meeks 3-4 7-10 13, Hicks 8-12 1-3 17, Jackson 8-13 0-0 21, Pinson 1-2 1-2 3, Berry II 1-8 0-0 3, Britt 3-6 2-2 10, Bradley 6-8 0-0 12, Rush 0-0 0-0 0, Coker 1-1 2-2 4, Robinson 1-1 0-0 2, Woods 0-2 2-2 2, Rohlman 0-1 0-0 0, White 2-6 2-2 6, Maye 4-11 2-3 10. Totals 38-75 19-26 103.
Halftime — North Carolina 52-27. 3-Point Goals—Texas Southern 7-27 (Lofton 0-3, Jefferson 1-7, Scott 4-8, Bynum 1-1, Robinson 1-3, Walker 0-2), North Carolina 8-22 (Jackson 5-8, Pinson 0-1, Berry II 1-6, Britt 2-4, Woods 0-1, Maye 0-2). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — North Carolina 54 (Jackson 7), Texas Southern 27 (Walker 6). Assists — North Carolina 18 (Britt 5), Texas Southern 9 (Scott 3). Total Fouls — Texas Southern 17, North Carolina 13. Technical — None. A — 14179.
Points in the Paint —North Carolina 52, Texas Southern 28. Points off Turnovers —North Carolina 15, Texas Southern 10. Second-Chance Points — North Carolina 29, Texas Southern 8. Fast Break Points —North Carolina 6, Texas Southern 4. Bench Points — North Carolina 46, Texas Southern 17.