CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Once seventh-ranked North Carolina started taking care of the basketball, the Tar Heels had no trouble taking care of Saint Francis of Pennsylvania.
Cameron Johnson scored 20 points, freshman Nassir Little added 19 and North Carolina beat Saint Francis 101-76 on Monday night in the on-campus round of the Las Vegas Invitational.
Luke Maye had 11 points and 10 rebounds, Kenny Williams had a career-high nine assists and freshman Coby White finished with 16 points for the Tar Heels (5-0), who shot 52 percent and never trailed.
North Carolina fought through some early turnover trouble and finally pulled away from the pesky Red Flash (1-3), reaching triple figures for the third time in four games.
Yes, they committed a season-high 18 turnovers. But only six of them came in the final 15 minutes, when the Tar Heels turned a six-point game into yet another blowout.
Coach Roy Williams said program patriarch Dean Smith “used to say that turnovers are either selfishness or carelessness.
“And half of ours were carelessness, and half were selfishness,” Williams added. “If you want to be good, don’t turn the sucker over.”
Jamaal King had 21 points, Andre Wolford scored 18 and Keith Braxton added 14 to lead the Red Flash, who shot 34 percent but early in the second half were within striking distance of their first Top 25 victory since 1959. They pulled to 58-52 with less than 15 minutes left on Braxton’s pretty layup between two defenders.
Kenny Williams hit a big 3-pointer and Johnson followed with a steal and a layup to start the decisive 11-0 run and put the Tar Heels back up by double figures to stay.
Saint Francis: The Red Flash certainly haven’t been afraid to challenge themselves. This was the second of three Top 25 opponents in an eight-day span. They acquitted themselves much better than in their last matchup — a 95-58 loss to No. 20 UCLA — and especially in their last visit to the North Carolina Triangle, a 124-67 setback at then-No. 1 Duke last December.
“I think it’s forced our guys to understand how focused you have to be,” coach Rob Krimmel said. “Whether you’re playing here in Chapel Hill or back in Loretto, Pennsylvania, the need and that sense of urgency to play hard and to play together. … Hopefully, being kind of on edge for the better part of the first month and understanding the attention to detail, they’ll build those habits that we’ll need coming into January and February.”
North Carolina: There wasn’t a whole lot in this one that pleased Roy Williams, at least not early. When the Tar Heels weren’t fouling the Red Flash, they were throwing the ball to them — with 12 turnovers in the first 24 minutes that led to 18 points for Saint Francis. This became the blowout everyone expected once UNC tightened things up.
“The biggest frustrations to me were the turnovers and putting them on the free throw line too much,” Williams said.
The Red Flash kept themselves in the game early by drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. Eight of North Carolina’s 10 fouls in the first half sent Saint Francis to the stripe, and the Red Flash kept it close by making 14 of 16 free throws. But in the second half they took just 11 free throws and made six.
The top play in this one came midway through the first half. The Tar Heels came away with the ball after a scrum under Saint Francis’ basket, and Kenny Williams lofted a perfect cross-court, alley-oop pass to Little, whose dunk pushed the lead to 29-17.
HE SAID IT
“I wish they’d frickin’ be faster learners.” — Roy Williams, after he learned half his team’s turnovers were committed by freshmen.