CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Just getting re-acclimated to the Eastern time zone was the biggest challenge for North Carolina. It sure didn’t get one from Southern California.
Playing their fifth game in eight days, the 11th-ranked Tar Heels got 23 points from Jawad Williams and another 17 from Sean May to beat the Trojans 97-65 Sunday night.
Raymond Felton added 12 assists for North Carolina (4-1), which won the Maui Invitational in convincing fashion last week, outscoring its opponents by an average of 21 points. An all-night plane ride got the players back to campus late Friday, and they practiced almost immediately.
Another workout followed on Saturday, then the Tar Heels quickly went to work on USC (1-1).
“It’s really tough, guys were really jet-lagged,” May said. “We had to do what we could do to get ourselves back on this time schedule. Then we did a pretty good job of playing with energy.”
The score was tied only at 2, and Jackie Manuel’s jumper gave North Carolina the lead for good. It reached double figures on a 3-pointer by Rashad McCants about 6 1/2 minutes into the first half, and May’s free throw made it a 20-point margin with about 5 minutes left.
“I was worried about us being a little stagnant, a little too casual out there,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “I feel very good about the win, I think we played exceptionally well.”
North Carolina had a 22-5 run to close the opening 20 minutes, and the Trojans never recovered. This wasn’t quite the homecoming coach Henry Bibby wanted—he grew up in tiny Franklinton, N.C., about 30 miles from Chapel Hill.
Jeff McMillan scored 10 points for USC, which fell to 0-7 all-time against North Carolina.
“It just shows me how much work we need to do to get where we need to be,” Bibby said. “I thought the kids played hard out on the floor, but I don’t think we always played smart. They’ll get better as things go on.”
Scoring never was a problem for the Tar Heels, who returned the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top scorer (McCants), top rebounder (May) and assist man (Felton) for Roy Williams’ second season. This was their third straight game with at least 90 points.
“We played probably a Final Four team,” Bibby said. “We aren’t going to see too many teams better than the team we faced tonight.”
Their play on the other end of the court has been the focus, and so far, North Carolina appears better. The Trojans shot only 35 percent and had 28 turnovers, including 16 in the first half.
“I think we were in a little bit of a frenzy defensively in the first half, and that’s good, if you can still be fundamentally sound,” Roy Williams said.
The change was apparent during the decisive spurt. USC shot 2-for-10 in the final 7 1/2 minutes, including a block by the 6-foot-4 McCants on the 6-11 Rory O’Neil. That started a highlight-reel fastbreak, with McCants whirling around Derrick Craven and passing to Felton, who lobbed the ball to Jawad Williams for a powerful dunk.
At that point, the Tar Heels led 56-25—their first 30-point lead of the game—and the second half essentially was garbage time.
“I think we were doing some trapping out there that was frustrating them,” May said. “They lost their rhythm.”
Another point of emphasis for North Carolina this season has been sharing the ball, and if the first half was any indication, that problem is solved, too. Every player who got on the court had at least one assist, led by Felton’s six, and 17 of the 22 baskets came after assists.
“When you see somebody passing the ball to a teammate, it makes you want to pass it,” Manuel said. “To me, when I pass the ball to somebody and he scores, that feels just as good as when I score.”