The Tar Heels may be 1-0, but beware Bucknell.
Carolina opened the basketball season impressively Friday night with a 17-point win over Northern Iowa that was 31 before Roy Williams emptied his bench and the Panthers scored the last 14 points of the game.
Playing without injured senior leader Joel Berry and projected transfer starter Cameron Johnson, who missed the game with a sprained neck, the Heels ran away from UNI in the second half and showed some surprisingly good inside play from the young post men complementing Luke Maye, who had a career high of 26 points and a double-double with 10 rebounds. Maye also took 16 shots, 10 more than any of his teammates.
Garrison Brooks started at the five spot and finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds in only 18 minutes, combining with Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman for 27 and 12 against the smaller UNI front court. Carolina shot 50 percent from the floor, much higher before missing its last five shots in mop-up time.
Freshman Jalek Felton and sophomore Seventh Woods shared lead guard duties in Berry’s absence and totaled 14 points and three assists with two of the team’s seven turnovers, lowest for an opening game in the Roy Williams era. So it was a good way to kick off the 2017-18 campaign, even though UNI was absent one of its best players, as well.
Bucknell on Wednesday night could be a completely different story. The Bison are defending champion of the Patriot League and favored to repeat with all five starters back, led by 6-10 senior center Nana Foulland, who averaged 15 points and eight rebounds as a junior when Bucknell reached the NCAA tournament. Fellow senior Zach Thomas, a 6-7 forward and the Bison’s leading scorer, averaged 16 points and 6.5 rebounds last season.
Bucknell lost its opener by one point at Monmouth, and we know how good King Rice’s teams are, and fell to Arkansas of the SEC Sunday. The Bison opens with four straight tough road games, concluding at Maryland after the visit to Chapel Hill.
Without Berry and perhaps Johnson back, this is a tough game. Bucknell will attempt to control the ball against Carolina’s pressure and pass-pass-pass until it gets a good shot from the perimeter or inside. Remember the home loss to Belmont four years ago? This one has that kind of smell to it. Play hard, Heels.