CHAPEL HILL — The first installment of what will be a month-long test of North Carolina’s point-guard depth began with an uneven 91–80 exhibition win Friday over Barton College.
With Joel Berry in a suit on the sidelines while recovering from a broken right hand, Seventh Woods and Jalek Felton got their first chance to impress Coach Roy Williams since Berry punched a door. Williams used lots of words to describe their play. Impressed clearly wasn’t one of them.
“Both of them have had some good moments in practice and I think both of them are going to be good players for us,” Williams said. “But I didn’t think it was — other than Jalek’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 7 to 1 — not really anything to say, ‘oh, that’s really good.’ ”
They might have been more successful than Berry was in his 2K basketball video game a few days ago against Theo Pinson and a manager. Neither point guard had a performance that was worthy of a punch of frustration. But there were only a few times when their play was worth celebrating.
Berry wasn’t wearing a full cast, instead a brace or a splint that appeared to only cover a couple of fingers.
Woods started and looked more comfortable at times than he did last season. But he wasn’t as assertive as he needs to be and had one bad turnover in the lane late in the game.
Williams was blunter after Woods finished with four points and two assists in 19 minutes.
“Seventh did not have a good day,” said Williams, who added that Woods has played well in practice. “I think he was dribbling a little bit too much. Trying to look to see if he could drive. If you move the ball two or three times, then you can always drive a lot easier because you can move the defense more. I think he’s been more confident in the preseason and I did start him.”
The pattern of too much dribbling wasn’t just a point-guard issue. That made the half-court offense stagnant, particularly in the second half when Barton outscored the Tar Heels 41–35.
“Coach was laying that message to the whole team,” said Kenny Williams, who had four points and two assists in 18 minutes. “Felt like everybody was dribbling too much as we weren’t doing enough passing and cutting. That’s really what opens up the offense. So, if somebody’s dribbling for 10 or 15 seconds of a possession, everybody else is standing.”
Luke Maye’s double-double with 18 points and 11 assists was impressive. But there were eye-opening moments for many Tar Heels fans was finally seeing Felton play for the first time.
“I liked his seven assists and one turnover but you have to attack more,” Coach Williams said of Felton.
Felton’s natural point-guard talent and his court presence were obvious. One particularly smooth moment came with a hand-off pass to fellow freshman Brandon Huffman for a second-half dunk.
The talent we’ve heard about was on display, but he needs maturity and time to adjust to the college level. He’s also got to learn the Carolina system, which is a monumental task for a point guard. At one point late in the game, Pinson motioned Felton near the bench so that he could have a word with him.
“I just told him that he has to come to the ball,” Pinson said. “Coach told him a couple of times don’t try to wait at half court. He did it again and I was like, ‘before Coach says it, just make sure you round-about to the basketball.’ Because if you stand at half court people can steal that.”
Pinson, who collected 14 points and three assists, is trying to hit that delicate balance of teaching Felton and the other freshmen while still encouraging them.
“It’s going have to be something we work with, and I need to be that guy to be positive with them,” Pinson said. “Everybody knows coach is going to be on them. But somebody’s got to be under their wing to let them know everything’s going to be all right.”
Pinson sees a bit of himself as he watches Felton making decisions about when to keep dribbling and when to pass and what is a good pass.
“He’s a really good passer, so that’s what he does,” Felton said. “As I did when I was a freshman, some of those passes are not going to go through when we play in the regular season. But he’ll learn from it and that’s all we can do.”
In addition to the five points and seven assists, Felton collected two blocks in 21 minutes.
“They did a good job of pushing the pace, especially at the end of the first half,” Kenny Williams said of the point guards. “That’s when we got the easy buckets, that’s when we opened it up a little bit.”
There is plenty of improvement to go around after Friday’s exhibition, and the Tar Heels will have to play much better to beat more talented opponents.
The first test of the Tar Heels point-guard depth didn’t go all that well. North Carolina can only hope the best is to come, and have to be relieved that Berry is only weeks away from his return.