CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The preseason 13th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels dominated the Division II Carson-Newman Eagles in an 88-27 exhibition win at Carmichael Arena on Wednesday.
With head coach Sylvia Hatchel back on the sideline after missing the entire 2013-2014 season to treat her diagnosis of Leukemia, the Tar Heels’ play didn’t look much different than it did at the end of an Elite 8 finish in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
With 12 players returning, four of them starters, North Carolina settled into the game and eventually increased its pace and rhythm to play its patented brand of defensive pressure basketball.
With Hatchell watching from courtside, the Tar Heels wore down their opponent and finished with the result that maintained a perfect 8-0 all-time record over the coach’s alma mater.
“It’s great to be back,” Hatchell said.
“My face is actually sore from smilin’ so much. It’s great to be back and I enjoyed the game tonight. I thought Carson-Newman did a good job of hangin’ in with us, especially early on in the first half. They really controlled the possessions and battled us on the boards. I thought they played us really smart and very well for most of the first half.”
Preseason All-ACC selections sophomore guard Alisha Gray (22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 asssists) and junior forward Xylina McDaniel (15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) led the way for the Tar Heels who used their aggressive defensive pressure to power their offense.
A double-double performance from senior guard Danielle Butts (10 points, 12 rebounds), 13 points from freshman guard Jamie Cherry, and a total of 17 team steals rounded out North Carolina’s transition showcase in scoring 33 points off turnovers.
Limiting Carson-Newman to 18-percent shooting throughout the game, North Carolina put together significant scoring runs early on and throughout the second half to finish with a 48-percent (33-60) scoring output.
Many of the Eagles’ shot attempts from the field were rushed and forced as a result of facing a longer Tar Heels squad that also used its size to establish a 48-29 rebounding advantage to score 26 points on fast breaks.
After North Carolina jumped out to a 10-0 lead and held Carson-Newman scoreless until the 12:34 mark of the opening half, both teams traded possessions, missed shots and made baskets with the Tar Heels leading 37-14 by halftime.
Not necessarily a clean-looking game for the Tar Heels at that point, the Hall of Fame coach sent the message to her team on what she expected for the final 20 minutes of play.
“The second half we really played Carolina defense the way it’s supposed to be played,” Gray said.
“The first half, everybody’s tryin’ to get the jitters out, and second half Coach Hatchell got us to play Carolina defense and get up to ‘em. It showed that when we run our defense right, the results are turnovers and layups.”
After Carson-Newman scored the first basket of the second half, North Carolina limited the Eagles to only 11 more points for the rest of the game.
The Tar Heels’ second half featured relentless presses that made it increasingly harder for the Eagles to advance the ball without turning it over and eventually resulted in separate 14-0, 13-0, and 21-0 scoring runs that put the finishing touches on the win.
“Second half, we got a lot more aggressive,” Hatchell said.
“We started gettin’ out on the passing lanes, we became more aggressive offensively. Alisha got goin’ and started scoring some points for us. We just overall picked it up more.”