The scare North Carolina received in its opener might have been just what the nation’s top-ranked team needed to approach the rest of the season.
The Tar Heels expect a better effort Sunday against Iona in their first home game as part of the Las Vegas Invitational.
Though it certainly wasn’t easy, North Carolina recovered after trailing much of the second half for a 72-68 win over upstart Davidson on Wednesday in Charlotte.
Despite the difficulty the Tar Heels endured, coach Ray Williams thinks the overall experience could help motivate his team to further justify its No. 1 ranking and remain a serious national championship contender.
“Exhibition games are not great for us. We win by 56 and 52, and that doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t test us,” Williams said. “(This) did.
“I told the guys in one of the huddles, ‘You may not believe this right now, but I love this.’ This is great for us.”
Remembering what got them through Wednesday’s game could come in handy for the Tar Heels in a possible Las Vegas title game against No. 6 Louisville next week, as well as upcoming games at Ohio State and Kentucky. North Carolina continues this tournament by hosting South Carolina State on Tuesday before going to Las Vegas to face Old Dominion on Friday.
Wednesday’s contest was not entirely good for Tyler Hansbrough. The preseason All-American finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds, but in the second half, he had just two points and three rebounds and was whistled for a technical foul. Hansbrough averaged 18.4 points and 7.9 rebounds last season.
North Carolina sophomore point guard Ty Lawson fared worse with eight points, one assist and four of the team’s 19 turnovers. Lawson averaged 10.2 points and 5.6 assists as a freshman.
Guard Wayne Ellington picked up the slack with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting for the Tar Heels, who shot 46.2 percent from the field and were 4-of-13 from 3-point range.
“I think it’s great even if you lose,” Williams said. “But it’s a heck of a lot better to get tested like that and win.”
The Tar Heels will be looking to win their sixth straight home opener and their 15th consecutive game over a non-conference opponent at the Dean Smith Center.
Lawson and Hansbrough each hope for a more complete game Sunday against Iona (0-2), which isn’t expected to pose the same challenge that came from Davidson, which returned five starters from last season’s NCAA tournament team.
The Gaels were 2-28 last season after making the NCAAs in 2005-06.
They lost 66-58 at Princeton on Wednesday. Senior forward Dexter Gray had 18 points for Iona, which shot 1-for-10 from 3-point range.
Gray is averaging 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds to lead the Gaels, who have committed 38 turnovers through two games.
“We just need to get better with our execution at times,” said first-year coach Kevin Willard, whose team was picked to finish eighth in the 10-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
North Carolina leads 2-1 in the all-time series with Iona, but the Gaels won 65-56 on Dec. 27, 2002 in the most recent meeting. That was the last time Iona defeated a ranked opponent, having since lost its only three tries.