In order for sustained success, sixth-ranked North Carolina is counting on a strong showing behind point guard Cole Anthony.
The Tar Heels are trying to become more balanced. They’ll look to enhance that element when Gardner-Webb visits Friday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“We’re 2-0, but we’ve got a lot of room to improve,” graduate transfer Justin Pierce said.
Yet coach Roy Williams has been concerned by the limited number of offensive sources that have emerged early in the season.
“We’re not a very good basketball team if we’ve only got three guys that can make a shot,” he said.
Anthony has put on a couple of nearly one-man shows so far. He’s the only North Carolina freshman to ever produce consecutive games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“We can’t rely on that for us to be successful,” Pierce said.
The Tar Heels have been off for a week since Friday’s 78-62 victory at UNC Wilmington. That outcome tied Williams for sixth place with Jim Calhoun on the all-time Division I victory list with 873.
The Tar Heels have dealt with injuries, with senior swingman Brandon Robinson missing the first two games with an ankle injury suffered during an exhibition game. They lost freshman forward Armando Bacot, who’s expected to be available for the Gardner-Webb game, for most of the game at UNC Wilmington because of a potential concussion.
“I’m our third big man right now,” Pierce said of the reduced frontcourt depth.
Williams said it has been a challenge for Pierce to make the adjustment to the Tar Heels as he has fluctuated between the two forward spots.
“It’s more difficult for him than any other player,” Williams said, “because he’s crossing the line – a post player or a wing player.”
Pierce, a graduate transfer from William & Mary made his 100th career 3-point basket in the last game.
“I’ve been working a lot on my shot,” Pierce said.
The primary rotation for the Tar Heels has been reduced to seven or eight players.
“It concerns us a great deal,” Williams said. “It’s who we have. I’ve always liked to play nine or 10. We’d like to get some of those other guys back. … Got to have depth in this game.”
Anthony said the first couple of games have given the team evidence of where it must improve.
“All it shows is we have a lot of room to grow,” Anthony said.
Gardner-Webb, which is the reigning Big South Conference Tournament champion, is coming off Saturday’s 71-59 loss at Western Carolina. The Bulldogs opened with a 70-63 home setback to Furman.
“We have to execute better offensively,” coach Tim Craft said.
Now Gardner-Webb is amid a stretch of six consecutive games away from home.
“Our team is going to be really exciting all year,” Craft said. “We’ve got some things to learn and some areas we have to grow in. I can guarantee that we’ll continue to grow and get better.”
North Carolina has won all four previous games vs. Gardner-Webb, with those also at the Smith Center.
–Field Level Media