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November 9, 2009
Tar Heels overcome turnovers to rout FIU
CHAPEL HILL - At least this one didn't require a rattled-in 3-pointer.
In North Carolina's last post-championship season opener, the Tar Heels needed David Noel to plink in a last-second shot for the win.
This time around, things were considerably easier, though not any prettier, as Carolina rolled to an 88-72 win against Florida International to kick off the 2009-10 season.
"We're glad to get the W," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "It's fun to get that first game under your belt."
Not surprisingly, senior Deon Thompson led all scorers with 20 points, in addition to grabbing 10 rebounds and making a team-high three steals.
Ed Davis also had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Zeller chipped in 12 points apiece.
The Tar Heels wore throwback jerseys modeled on what was worn by UNC's 1957 national championship team.
"Other than being so small, they were pretty sweet," Thompson said. "I don't think anyone was ready for them."
But aside from the outfit, Carolina didn't look much like a championship team despite going up against an FIU team that lost an exhibition game to NAIA school Northwood.
Carolina began the second half on an 11-2 - capped by an alley-oop toss from Justin Watts to John Henson to open up a 25-point lead.
Then the Tar Heels seemed to get a little sluggish and sloppy as the half wore on, allowing the Golden Panthers to cut into the lead, albeit never too deep.
"Coach (Williams) was very generous tonight," FIU coach Isiah Thomas said. "I'm sure his basketball team could have played a lot more and I appreciate him not hurting us too bad."
It was obvious, though, that the Golden Panthers sticking as close as they did - the Heels were 30-plus-point favorites - had nothing to do with generosity.
Unless you count giving the ball away.
Carolina did plenty of that, turning it over 26 times.
"It was probably just a lot of nervous energy," Will Graves said. "Everyone wants to play at that fast pace."
Williams had a few other beefs with his team's performance, notably the number of loose balls he felt Florida International worked harder to get and the fact that his team shot 13 3-pointers.
"Just because they play zone, doesn't mean we have to take the first shot we look at," he said.
But all in all, Williams was okay with the bottom line and the learning experience.
"It goes in the (win) column," Williams said. "What we faced tonight, we're going to face a lot this year. Teams are going to be playing zone at one end and trying to spread us and drive on our bigs at the other. So that was good."
There had been some controversy over the summer when FIU claimed it was promised a game in this tournament other than this one and talked about backing out.
But in the end, Thomas and the Golden Panthers relented and agreed to play the game as scheduled.
That little imbroglio had far more drama than the game itself.
Especially considering it didn't take a last-second shot to win and it allowed Williams to get experience for a lot of his young players, with 10 guys playing double-digit minutes.
"The more we play with each other, the easier it's going to get," point guard Larry Drew said. "It's the first game."