Youthful Tar Heels contain Bulldogs in exhibition opener
By Peter Koutroumpis
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The North Carolina Tar Heels, entering the 2017-2018 season with one of the youngest rosters in the country, opened preseason play with an 84-62 win over the Wingate Bulldogs at Carmichael Arena on Wednesday.
Senior guard Jamie Cherry’s 21 points led a four-player contingent that finished in double-digits with Taylor Koenen (19 points), Paris Kea (18 points), and Janelle Bailey (12 points) fueling the UNC offense.
For the Bulldogs, Marta Miscenko’s strong post presence generated 17 points, while guard Carolina Averette added 11 amongst a hard-working squad that outrebounded the Tar Heels by a 38-26 margin.
“We learned a lot,” UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
“I thought skill-wise, offensively we did some nice things. The rebounding was really not that good, so we’ve gotta do a whole lot better job with that.”
UNC shot 53 percent (34-of-64) for the game while the Bulldogs converted at a 46-percent pace, dropping 27 of 59 shot attempts.
The Tar Heels played without Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Preseason Team selection Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker, second and fourth leading scorers in 2016-2017, as both were still recovering from knee injuries suffered last season.
In their place Cherry, Kea, and Koenen, presented a slightly different look for North Carolina, while also adding newcomers Bailey, Jaelynn Murray (6 points, 6 rebounds), and Jocelyn Jones (6 points) into the mix.
Koenen in particular, enters her sophomore year in a more critical role to shore up the offensive and defensive deficiencies created without Watts and Walker.
“I don’t know if there’s anyone that’s worked harder over the summer than Taylor,” Hatchell stated.
“She’s put in time, she’s really worked on her shot. I just think that she’s going to continue to be the utility player that can do a lot of things, and she’ll do things at times that will surprise you. She’s sort of a cleanup person out there in getting a rebound or making a certain play at certain times. She’s just a smart player.”
In addition to scoring, Koenen pulled down five rebounds and claimed four steals against Wingate, and reinforced what the coaching staff expects of her this season.
“The coaching staff does have high expectations of what I do,” Koenen said.
“I want nothing more than to fulfill those. I came in (as a freshman) a good shooter, and I struggled through the season, so that was tough. But, I knew in the offseason that I could get back to where I knew I could be and should be, so tonight showed a little taste of that. It’s nice to finally see the ball go through the hoop.”
As the backbone of the Tar Heels’ play throughout the game, Cherry and Kea each supported with six assists and five steals while Cherry dropped 9-of-10 free throws, the only UNC player to shoot from the charity stripe all game.
“Paris can play about any position on the floor really,” Hatchell said.
“Her mid-range game is tremendous. I mean she’s just as good as anyone in the country in her mid-range game. She and Jamie I thought in the second half played really well; especially Jamie, I thought she had a really good second half.”
With UNC leading 58-47 with 9:21 remaining in the game, Kea and Cherry contributed all but two points of a 20-4 run that fully distanced the two teams until the final buzzer.
Though just an exhibition game win, there is much work to do.
Starting with another young lineup that must grow up quickly as injuries hinder the depth that she can work with for at least the first month of the season, the Hall of Fame coach and cancer survivor, never one to dwell on negatives, provided the focus she and her team will work with moving forward.
“I love this team,” Hatchell said.
“As these guys (freshman) learn and continue to play with each other, they’ll learn more how to feed off each other. They’ll continue to get better and better, and as we get those kids back, they’re still rehabbing and coming off of injuries, we’ll continue to add more back to our team. It’s fun to get started. We’re anxious to get in a few more good practices and start a week from Friday.”
UNC: Jamie Cherry – 21 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals; Taylor Koenen – 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals; Paris Kea – 18 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals; Janelle Bailey – 12 points, 3 rebounds;
Wingate: Marta Miscenko – 17 points, 9 rebounds; Carolina Averette – 11 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport