UNC’s Williams focused on turnovers after exhibitions

The Tar Heels coasted to two wins in the Bahamas, but coach Roy Williams returned with concerns about ball security

UNC guard Seventh Woods, pictured during the 2018 ACC Tournament, will be given a chance to run the Tar Heels’ offense this season. (Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports)

The North Carolina basketball team put up some impressive offensive numbers during its recent exhibition trip to the Bahamas.

Those point totals, however, weren’t the statistics that caught coach Roy Williams’ eye.

The Hall of Fame coach was much more interested — and maybe a little concerned — about the number of turnovers his team committed in the two games played it played on the Caribbean islands.

The Tar Heels had 27 of them in an opening 112-91 win against the Bahamas All-Stars on Aug. 17, then followed that up a day later with 17 in a much-less-competitive 130-45 thumping of the StarSports Basketball Club.

Some of that sloppiness can be attributed to the new combination of players competing for the first time together against an unfamiliar foe, the team’s abbreviated practice time before making the trip or any number of other factors.

Whatever the reason, Williams said it’s a problem the Tar Heels will need to work on once they begin their official preseason preparations back in Chapel Hill next month.

“We tried to share the ball, but we can’t have 27 turnovers, which is something we emphasize before practice,” Williams told InsideCarolina.com after the game against the Bahamas All-Stars. “We could have brought people back for 10 days of practice. We only did it four, so I was not pleased about that. But we had a lot of guys play.”

A major contributing factor to the rash of turnovers is the uncertainty UNC faces at point guard, where it must replace three-year starter and former Final Four Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry.

Junior Seventh Woods figures to get the first crack at the job after waiting for his turn and through a series of injuries during his first two seasons in the program.

The former five-star prospect, who became a YouTube celebrity as a teenager because of his highlight-reel dunks, put an exclamation point on the Tar Heels’ opening win with a spectacular tomahawk slam in the final minutes. But he was up-and-down through the rest of the game while finishing with 11 points, three assists and four turnovers.

“Since he’s been here, the one thing I’ve given him is don’t turn the ball over and stay in front of your man on defense,” Williams said of Woods. “If he does that, he’s going to help us.”

Freshmen Coby White and Rechon “Leaky” Black also got their share of time running the team, along with versatile sophomore Andrew Platek, especially in the second game with Woods limited to only a few minutes because of a stiff back. Of the three, the lesser-heralded Black may have helped himself most with his surprisingly steady play.

Other than the point guard position, the biggest question facing the Tar Heels in 2018-19 is in the frontcourt, where Williams is counting on a trio of sophomore big men to make more of a contribution than they did during their rookie seasons.

Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley had the best performances in the more competitive first game, with Brooks scoring 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor, while Manley contributed 13 rebounds and four assists.

A day later, it was Brandon Huffman’s time to shine. Although his numbers are more likely the product of the competition rather than dramatic improvement, the seldom-used 6-10, 250-pound project posted 20 points and 20 rebounds to lead UNC in both categories. Manley also contributed a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards, while Brooks scored 12 in the lopsided win.

Although it’s still too early to determine how the three young bigs will fit into a rotation with the new freshmen and returning starters Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson — the latter of which didn’t play in the Bahamas while recovering from offseason surgery — their play promises to give Roy Williams more inside options than he had a year ago.

“It’s a nice blend,” the coach said. “With Kenny and Cam and Luke, you’ve got three guys that have been through it quite a bit and have been successful. Then you’ve got Leaky, Nassir (Little) and Coby (who) are all going to be very good players. Hopefully they’ll add some youthful exuberance to it.

“Sterling, Garrison and Huff … they got some minutes for us last year, but they’ve got to be better players for us this year.”