Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The 12th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels continue play in the Hall of Fame Tipoff when they welcome the Belmont Bruins to the Smith Center for a non-conference tilt.
Roy Williams' squad has yet to be at full strength, but it hasn't mattered, as UNC has posted two straight wins to start the season, topping both Oakland (84-61) and Holy Cross (62-54). North Carolina, which won 25 games a year ago, has started the season without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald in the lineup, as both are still in NCAA eligibility limbo. The Tar Heels will certainly need both playmakers back to improve their chances in the newly bolstered ACC.
Rick Byrd's Bruins won the Ohio Valley Conference last year, but had some holes to fill coming into 2013-14. The early returns are favorable, with Belmont winning two of its first three games. The team opened with a win at Lipscomb (87-83), but then fell at Richmond (69-61). The Bruins got back in the win column in their home opener on Thursday, with a thrilling 96-95 shootout victory over Indiana State, extending the second-longest active homecourt win streak to 21 games.
North Carolina is playing its 400th game at the Smith Center on Sunday. The Tar Heels are 340-59 all-time on their current home floor. This marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
It was an offensive slugfest for Belmont against Indiana State, with the Bruins giving the hometown faithful their money's worth in a one-point victory. The Bruins shot a sizzling 60 percent from the floor overall, including 66 percent in the second half to earn the win. J.J. Mann led the charge with 23 points. Five others notched double figures in support. Drew Windler added 17 points, followed by Reece Chamberlain (16 pts), Craig Bradshaw (11 pts), Blake Jenkins (10 pts) and Chad Lang (10 pts).
Offensively, Belmont has had no problems in the early going, averaging 81.3 ppg on .497 shooting. The defensive effort has not been strong though, with the Bruins yielding 82.3 ppg. Mann is expected to shoulder the role of lead scorer and has done so thus far, averaging 16.0 ppg. Windler is a close second at 15.3 ppg, with scoring depth coming from Chamberlain and Jenkins at 13.0 and 11.0 ppg, respectively.
Marcus Paige scored a career-high 23 points in North Carolina's eight-point win over Holy Cross last time out. Brice Johnson came off the bench to add 12 points, while James Michael McAdoo had a subdued 11-point outing. The Tar Heels struggled with their shot in the first half (9-of-33), but distanced themselves in the second half (14-of-27). North Carolina took advantage of its size, doubling up on the Crusaders in points in the paint (28-14).
The defensive effort for North Carolina has been strong in the first two games, limiting foes to just 57.5 ppg, on .330 shooting. The team has also enjoyed a +10 rebounding margin thus far. Offensively, the team will be much better if and when Hairston and McDonald join the fray. Paige has filled the void thus far at 18.5 ppg, along with McAdoo (16.0 ppg) and Johnson (11.0 ppg).