Davidson was hitting shots early and testing North Carolina on Friday night.
That was fine with Joel Berry. The tougher the better for UNC’s star senior.
“You don’t want to schedule bad teams early in the season,” Berry said. “You want to see where you’re at as a team.”
Turns out, the Tar Heels (7-1) are in pretty good shape. Berry made sure of that with a game-high 27 points, and Luke Maye added 24 points and 17 rebounds in an 85-75 win over the Wildcats.
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This breakneck early-season schedule already has an NCAA tournament feel to it for the Tar Heels and not just because for the second week in a row there will be a very March-like Friday-Sunday set of games.
Just this week, UNC has faced three great coaches in Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Michigan’s John Beilein and Davidson’s Bob McKillop. And going back to a game last week with Arkansas, the Tar Heels have seen a range of different playing styles.
“Just this whole stretch will be good for us,” said Berry, who made four of UNC’s five 3-pointers.
Coach Roy Williams wasn’t sure when he made the schedule if his team, with three new starters and five freshmen, could handle it.
“That schedule is probably a little more challenging than I should have made it,” said Williams, noting his group will end up playing 10 games in 27 days.
With the teams Williams had the previous two years, both of which played in the national title game, he had no such anxiety.
“There was a little more indecision about what was going to happen this year,” Williams said.
No Justin Jackson? No Tony Bradley? No problem. Maye, who averaged 5.5 points per game last season, has seen to that. The junior forward from nearby Huntersville has raised his scoring average to 20.4 points per game through eight games.
“He’s become a star overnight,” UNC forward Theo Pinson said. “The dude is letting the game come to him and not forcing anything. He’s just going out there and playing basketball.”
Maye helped UNC to a 54-23 rebounding advantage over the Wildcats on Friday. He had a double-double in the first half and carried the scoring while Berry started slowly.
Sophomore Brandon Robinson pitched in eight points, too, his career-high, in the first half while UNC erased an early seven-point deficit to take a 43-37 lead by the half.
Davidson (3-3) outscored UNC 42-15 behind the 3-point line and got 22 points from forward Peyton Aldridge, but the bigger, more athletic Tar Heels were able to wear the Wildcats down in the second half.
UNC had a 19-4 advantage on the offensive glass and a 25-5 edge in second-chance points. An 11-1 run put UNC up 69-55 at the 8:44 mark in the second half. The Spectrum Center broke out in a loud “Tar … Heels!” chant.
The same building will host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games in March. UNC, as it did in 2008 and ’11, would like to follow the same path.
“Charlotte has always looked out for us,” said Pinson, who led UNC with five assists. “We love it here and hopefully we can come back.”
That’s four months from now and there’s a lot of basketball to be played before then.
“That’s far away from now,” Berry said.
Maybe but games like Friday’s are getting the Tar Heels ready for the fight.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio