Playing in Madison Square Garden, the Tar Heels dominated the Scarlet Knights from the opening tip and breezed to the finish line with a 78-55 victory. Rutgers definitely is no powerhouse, but this was an important win because UNC improved its record against major-conference opponents to 2-4 on the season.
But back to that shooting. The Heels hit 57 percent from the floor in the first half, before going cold during garbage time and shooting 47 percent total in the game. Even better, the Heels knocked down 48 percent of their three-point attempts.
From an individual perspective, the most encouraging aspect of the contest was the play of sophomore wing Leslie McDonald, who prior to this point had shot extremely poorly against UNC’s better opponents. Versus Rutgers, he drilled 5-for-9 from the field and 4-for-7 on three-pointers for a total of 14 points in 16 minutes.
UNC’s attack was very balanced, with only McDonald and hard-working junior Justin Watts tallying at least 10 points. Freshman Harrison Barnes continues to struggle — and ESPN continues to hammer home the point — shooting only 3-for-9 and finishing with nine points.
The point guard controversy continues to rage, albeit more quietly after a victory. Junior starter Larry Drew had seven points, four assists and three turnovers in 20 minutes, while in 18 minutes freshman Kendall Marshall notched six assists and one turnover (and no points).
Carolina’s defense was at times spotty, but the Scarlet Knights shot poorly anyway. They hit only 34 percent from the field and 23 percent on threes, and UNC brutalized them 46-31 in rebounding. Rutgers doesn’t appear to be an NCAA Tournament-caliber team and played that way, but any win over a Big East foe is worth something to UNC psychologically and looking ahead to the postseason.
UNC returns home to face St. Francis on Sunday. That will be Carolina’s final non-conference opponent of the regular season, as the following weekend they’ll tip off the ACC schedule at Virginia. To see the UNC/Rutgers box score, click here.