CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina hadn’t had a game like this in a while – one in which coach Roy Williams could give his reserves significant playing time and experiment with different lineups without much thought or worry about the final score.
Days after playing what’s likely to be remembered as one of their most difficult games of the season, the Tar Heels on Tuesday night played what could be remembered as one of their easiest – a 97-48 victory against Evansville in which UNC (7-2) built a 30-point halftime lead.
Leading into Tuesday, North Carolina’s three previous games had featured plenty of drama.
There was the 10-point loss against UNLV in the Las Vegas Invitational, then a 60-57 victory against then-No. 9 Wisconsin here last week. Then came the 73-72 loss at No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday in a game that felt – and looked – more like early April instead of early December.
There was no such drama here at the Smith Center on Tuesday. Evansville (3-4), which opened the season with a victory against Butler and then outscored Indiana in the second half of a 21-point loss, never put up much of a fight. Not early, not after falling behind by 30 at the half and not late, when UNC expanded the lead with its backups.
During its most competitive games this season – the three against UNLV, Wisconsin and Kentucky, and the one earlier this season against Michigan State – UNC has primarily used an eight-man rotation. Against Evansville, 11 players received at least nine minutes of playing time.
Patrick Crouch, a senior walk-on guard from Asheville, entered the game without about four-and-a-half minutes to play. About two minutes later, the rest of the Tar Heels’ walk-ons joined him on the court.
Crouch and his fellow walk-ons helped create what little drama there was in the final minute. Crouch turned an Evansville turnover into a fastbreak lay-up, which put the Heels within three points of 100.
And then it began: “We want biscuits,” the crowd at the Smith Center began to chant, referencing a local fast food restaurant’s promotion that goes into effect when UNC scores 100 points. Alas, though, Crouch missed a 3 with about six seconds to play.
It was one of the Tar Heels’ few disappointments. Harrison Barnes led five UNC players in double figures, with 17 points. Reggie Bullock, the sophomore guard, added 15 and John Henson (13 points and 12 rebounds) and Tyler Zeller (12 and 10) both finished with double-doubles.
Zeller finished one point shy of breaking the 1,000-point mark for his career.
The Tar Heels dominated statistically in every facet. They finished with twice as many rebounds as Evansville, and also held the Purple Aces to 25.8 percent shooting.
The low point of the game for UNC came with 11:36 to play, when freshman guard P.J. Hairston left the game with an apparent right ankle injury. He was helped off the court, then left the Tar Heels’ bench. He returned a few minutes later with ice wrapped around his right ankle.