What do the Tar Heels need to work on before ACC play begins?

Find out what University of North Carolina basketball coach talk about what he thinks the Tar Heels need to work on in the gap between early games and conference play.
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Find out what University of North Carolina basketball coach talk about what he thinks the Tar Heels need to work on in the gap between early games and conference play.
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North Carolina

Tar Heels feel ‘pretty good’ about 9-1 start heading into exam break

December 06, 2017 10:44 PM

CHAPEL HILL

Joel Berry smoothed over the swelling in the knuckle at the base of his right pinky.

It’s a little forget-me-not of how North Carolina’s season started.

“It’s not bad,” Berry said. “The way it worked, I only missed one game. I’ll take that any day.”

You could say the same for the Tar Heels’ start to the season. Berry helped UNC improve to 9-1 on Wednesday night with a 104-61 home win over Western Carolina.

The senior guard had 12 points and made two of the team’s season-high 16 3-pointers in a balanced scoring effort.

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (2) drives to the basket against Western Carolina’s Adam Sledd (44) during the first half on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Given the injuries, the hectic schedule and all the newcomers, Berry is relatively pleased with how the season has started for the Tar Heels.

“I think we’re doing pretty good,” Berry said. “We’ve improved more than I thought we would with just having so many young guys.”

UNC +/- vs. Western Carolina



Theo’s merely now +67 the past two games pic.twitter.com/jxw7hJN7K2

— Joe Giglio (@jwgiglio) December 7, 2017

Freshman guard Jalek Felton was the best of the young guys on Wednesday with a season-high 15 points and five assists.

The Heels will need more of Felton with sophomore guard Seventh Woods out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right foot.

North Carolina’s Jalek Felton (5) runs the defense during the second half against Western Carolina on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Felton lead North Carolina with 15 points.
Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Add to that the extended absence of wing Cam Johnson, out since the opener and expected to be out for a few more weeks, and the Heels have dealt with their share of bumps in a busy road.

“It’s just something with this team that we’re always battling injuries at the beginning of the year,” Berry said.

Not that UNC needed to be at full strength on Wednesday. The Heels out-rebounded Western Carolina (3-7) 53 to 25 and finished with one of the best 3-point shooting performances (16 of 22) since Roy Williams returned to Chapel Hill in 2003.

“Everything looks great when the ball goes in the basket,” Williams said. “It went in the basket tonight.”

It did and the reward, besides the win, is some extended time off. UNC won’t play again until Dec. 17 (at Tennessee).

Wednesday’s win wrapped up a stretch of seven games in 14 days. The Tar Heels won six of them, with the lone loss coming to Michigan State on Nov. 26 in Portland.

“I think we feel pretty good to be sitting at 9-1,” junior guard Kenny Williams said. “We had that horrendous game but we’ve made strides defensively and the younger guys are starting to pick the offense a little bit more. Once we get that down to a tee, we’ll be a little bit more dangerous.”

North Carolina’s Kenny Williams (24) launches a three-point shot over Western Carolina’s Devin Peterson (5) during the first half on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

That’s a scary thought for the Catamounts, who actually scored the first five points of the game and led for 3 minutes before UNC used a 20-0 run to take over.

Felton looked more comfortable in extended minutes, a season-high 18, and was one of several UNC players who was hot from the outside.

Felton made all four of his 3-pointers and fellow freshman Andrew Platek was 3 of 5 from behind the line and added 11 points.

The Heels were dialed in from outside but it was only the second time this season they out-scored their opponent from the 3-point line (33-21 in the road win at Stanford on Nov. 20).

Johnson, who made 41.5 percent of his 3s last season at Pitt, will help add more consistency from the 3-point line.

“Once Cam comes back, that’s just going to make us even better from the outside and just overall a better team,” Berry said.

Nine wins in 10 games is pretty good without Johnson. The Heels will take it but when the schedule cranks back up, Berry understands the Heels will have to do more.

“I’m happy right now, but you can’t get complacent,” Berry said, noting the national champions will get every opponent’s “A” game.

“So we’ve just got to continue to get better and better.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio