North Carolina coach Roy Williams knows his players might struggle at times but remains confident as long as they continue to show improvement.
Despite an overall easy season-opening victory, the No. 11 Tar Heels hope to please Williams with a more complete effort Sunday against Florida Atlantic.
With four starters from last season's ACC regular-season champion team now in the NBA, North Carolina overcame 18 turnovers, 1-of-12 shooting from 3-point range and 9-of-19 at the free-throw line to beat Gardner-Webb 76-59 on Friday. James Michael McAdoo set career highs with 26 points and 14 rebounds while Dexter Strickland scored 13 for the Tar Heels, who are expected to challenge North Carolina State and Duke for ACC prominence.
"I was disappointed in how we played, but I'm not disappointed in my team," Williams said. "I think it was a good night for us, and I think we learned a lot. We need to be better on Sunday."
Williams appears willing to deal with poor shooting and carelessness in these more favorable matchups as long his team learns from its mistakes to prevent them from happening against tougher competition. His players certainly understand they are far from perfect.
"I think we still need to do a better job," Strickland told the Tar Heels' official website. "We still have some areas we need to go over and get better at in practice, and we have a lot of work to do but I think we have come a long way."
While the Tar Heels had their issues on the offensive end, they proved too much for Gardner-Webb while forcing 22 turnovers, outrebounding the Bulldogs 48-32 and holding them to 40.0 percent shooting, including 6 of 22 from beyond the arc.
McAdoo, a sophomore, appears ready to make the most of his opportunity as a starter after he averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds almost entirely as a reserve behind big men Tyler Zeller and John Henson in 2011-12.
"It was a dream come true just to see that I'm out there and have that responsibility," said McAdoo, who went 10 of 12 from the field. "I feel like now I know what I'm capable of doing. Last year I was just going out there just trying to find a loose ball here and there and fit in. This year I'm embracing my role."
Having a senior like Strickland running the offense also should help young players like McAdoo and freshman guard Marcus Paige adjust to their roles as starters. Strickland went 5 of 8 from the field and recorded three steals in his first action since he suffered a torn ACL against Virginia Tech on Jan. 19.
Looking for its 76th straight home victory over an unranked, non-conference opponent, North Carolina faces Florida Atlantic for the first time since a 105-52 win Dec. 19, 2006. This contest is part of the Maui Invitational which continues on the Hawaiian island Nov. 19-21.
The Owls head into their opener counting on production from senior guard Greg Gantt, who averaged a team-high 14.0 points for last season's team that finished 11-19.
Florida Atlantic is in the midst of 10-game skid against Top 25 opponents dating to an 83-81 win at No. 11 Oklahoma State on Dec. 1, 1998.
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