No. 7 North Carolina beats Tennessee Tech 108-58
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — The ball came Seventh Woods’ way in transition and he didn’t hesitate.
The North Carolina junior immediately flipped the ball behind his back to Cameron Johnson for a corner 3-pointer, one of several blowout-producing baskets for the seventh-ranked Tar Heels after halftime in Friday night’s 108-58 win against Tennessee Tech.
It was part of an encouraging night for UNC (4-0) at the point, where Woods and freshman starter Coby White need to develop into reliable tempo-pushing floor leaders if the Tar Heels are going to contend for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship after the departure of multi-year starter and former Final Four most outstanding player Joel Berry II.
Yes, this was a blowout against an overmatched team, but Woods and White both had solid games by setting up teammates for scores and avoiding turnovers.
“I’m pretty doggone pleased with our point guard position,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I’m never going to be satisfied. ... I want both of them to keep playing and getting better and better.”
White, a McDonald’s All-American who set an in-state prep career scoring record, had 11 points and four assists with two turnovers in 20 minutes. But Woods perhaps stood out more, simply by standing out at all.
He’s a gifted athlete who arrived at UNC known as a YouTube dunking sensation, but he had struggled to find a steady role while averaging just 1.4 points through his first two seasons. But he had seven points and a career-best eight assists, including the crowd-wower to Johnson for a 65-30 lead with 15:54 left.
Along the way, he looked comfortable finding teammates in transition and even hit a 3-pointer — only the third of his career and first since November 2016. More important, he had zero turnovers in his 17 minutes.
“It’s definitely a confidence builder,” Woods said. “It’s just trying to build off it in every way possible. And I realize I still have to get better on both ends of the court.”
North Carolina shot 55 percent on a night filled with impressive statistics, while Micaiah Henry scored 20 points to lead the Golden Eagles (0-4) — who shot 36 percent and had 22 turnovers.
“We just need to get better,” Tennessee Tech coach Steve Payne said. “We knew what (challenge) we had tonight. We were going to have to play our tails off and things would have to go great to have a chance late — and it didn’t.”
Tennessee Tech: A rough start to the season got rougher. The Golden Eagles had lost by 15 at Memphis, by 15 at home against Presbyterian and by 14 at Savannah State coming into Chapel Hill — putting them at No. 317 in KenPom’s national rankings entering Friday’s games. This time they fell behind by double figures by the 13:36 mark of the first half and watched the margin grow steadily.
“We just want to compete our tails off and get better,” Payne said. “It’s hard to. We’re a little down. And tonight was a little hard, but I thought we kept fighting, even to the end. ... But right now, we’re just not ready. And it’s my job to get them ready for it. We’ll keep pushing.”
UNC: The Tar Heels are making offense look easy early. This was their second 100-point output in four games, and they scored 50 points in each half Friday despite shooting just 5 of 23 from behind the arc. Luke Maye’s 15 points led six players in double figures.
The Tar Heels used a 17-2 first-half run to blow the game open and kept stretching the lead in a transition-filled romp. They finished with 29 fast-break points — more than any game in at least three seasons — and had 30 second-chance points after dominating the glass (54-24).
UNC senior Kenny Williams left the game after rolling his right ankle while landing on someone’s foot while pursuing a rebound with 7:54 left. Roy Williams seemed to think the guard’s injury wasn’t serious afterward.
Tennessee Tech: The Golden Eagles visit No. 11 Michigan State on Sunday.
UNC: The Tar Heels host St. Francis (Pa.) on Monday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap