North Carolina coach Roy Williams blamed an extended break for his team's sluggish start in a 75-60 win over Northern Kentucky at the Dean Smith Center on Friday. Williams gave his team Sunday through Wednesday off for Christmas, and the Tar Heels didn't practice until Thursday night.
"I probably gave them too much time," Williams said. "We were not sharp, to say the least, and that was a huge part of the game. At the same time, I didn't think we had the intensity and concentration level that we needed to have."
The Heels finished with 14 turnovers, several of the unforced variety, such as when Marcus Paige passed up an open 3-pointer to dish to James Michael McAdoo. The problem was McAdoo was expecting Paige to shoot, and the ball sailed out of bounds.
Williams could tolerate those mistakes, but he said, "I was ticked off" by his team's first-half defense. It led Williams to start a second-half unit of Luke Davis, Isaiah Hicks, Jackson Simmons, Desmond Hubert and Paige.
"My staff did a great job, because what I wanted to do was stay out at halftime and run sprints the entire friggin' half," Williams said. "They thought it was not the right thing to do, but, god, I wanted to do that so badly. I will never ask them again, because I'm going to do that one of these days. I know by god we'll make 'SportsCenter' then."
The second-half starting five did set the tone for the Heels defensively. The group held the Norse scoreless for three-plus minutes to start the half on 0-for-5 shooting, including a shot-clock violation.
"I thought they gave us a tremendous lift defensively," Williams said. "They did some really good things for us that sort of turned it around."
Other game observations:
• Carolina had been outscored in points in the paint only in losses to UAB and Texas -- until the undersized Norse did it. NKU starting center Jalen Billups stands only 6-foot-6, but the Norse attacked the rim and the Tar Heels did not. UNC lost that battle 28-26, with the Norse attempting seven more shots in the paint.
"We had a tremendous size advantage, and one of our goals was to attack the basket, and we didn't get a single, low post-up or taking the ball to the basket the entire first half," Williams said.
• Freshman forward Isaiah Hicks played arguably his best game to date. It started with his defensive effort on NKU's Tyler White, who had 11 points in the first half. Hicks' long arms deterred White from getting any good looks. Hicks finished with four points and three rebounds.
"I guess I showed my presence more," Hicks said.
• Carolina recorded the second-most blocks in school history with 15. It was the most since recording the same number on March 8, 2008, against Duke. That included career highs from Brice Johnson and Hicks with three each.
• P.J. Hairston was not on the bench for the first time this season at a Carolina home game. The junior guard missed the first nine games before the school announced it would not petition the NCAA to have his eligibility reinstated. He was present on the bench for the Davidson game last Saturday, despite the news. Asked if he would be back, Williams said he didn't know.
"I'm trying to coach the guys I have; I have no idea," Williams said. "He's not on our team. I love him to death, but he's not on our team."