NEW ORLEANS (AP) If North Carolina needs more scoring from Justin Jackson this season, early signs are the sixth-ranked Tar Heels are going to get it.
Jackson scored a career-high 27 points, guard Joel Berry II added a career-high 23, and No. 6 North Carolina never trailed its overmatched host, defeating Tulane 95-75 on Friday night in the regular season opener for both teams.
“I would love to keep it up every single game,” Jackson said. “I’ve just got to keep on putting in the work before and after practice so that whenever I step on the court, that’s the easy part.”
He made it look easy, but deferred credit to fellow Tar Heels for getting him open shots.
“My teammates were finding me. They were setting screens,” Jackson said. “I just had to step into the shot and knock it down.”
Jackson hit the first four 3s he attempted and also scored on an array of shots from inside and out, including a driving reverse layup. That came as no surprise to Berry, who was among those looking to get Jackson the ball.
“He’s worked on his shot a lot, worked on making it, being more consistent,” Berry said. “That’s what we’re going to need from him.”
The game marked the college coaching debut for former NBA player and coach Mike Dunleavy, but his Tulane squad simply lacked the talent to stay with a team that lost last season’s national championship game to Villanova on a last-second shot.
“We got caught up in the momentum, as opposed to playing the way that we needed to play to give ourselves a chance,” Dunleavy said. “I liked our effort. I’m not going to like some of our film, but that’s part of it.”
Cameron Reynolds scored a career-high 21 points for Tulane, hitting five of six from 3-point range. Tulane struggled to get open looks near the basket against North Carolina’s imposing interior, but the Green Wave hit 12 3-pointers to account for nearly half of its points.
North Carolina: Berry looks ready to take charge and be a playmaker on both ends. Isaiah Hicks looks formidable from 10 feet in, and Jackson demonstrated that he’s ready to contribute a lot more than the 12 points per game he supplied last season as North Carolina looks to repeat as Atlantic Coast Conference champions.
Tulane: While there was never any evidence that the Green Wave possessed enough talent to compete with a traditional college basketball power like North Carolina, Dunleavy has the Green Wave playing with more purpose and poise than they displayed a year ago. Time will tell if the former NBA coach can make Tulane into a factor in the American Athletic Conference.
Hicks scored 16, and Kennedy Meeks grabbed 15 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who never trailed and led by as many as 21 points. Freshman forward Tony Bradley added 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Kain Harris scored 15 points for Tulane and freshman guard Colin Slater added 14 points in his Green Wave debut.
North Carolina, a 21-point favorite coming in, found Tulane to be a feisty opponent early. Trailing 20-19 more than 10 minutes into the game, the Green Wave had several chances to take the lead, but missed two shots and then turned the ball over on a charging foul.
That’s about when Berry seemed to infuse the Tar Heels with some extra intensity, starting with his alley-oop lob from the top of the key to set up Hicks’ dunk. Berry then stole the ball from Ray Ona Embo and quickly fed Jackson for a layup. Berry then hit a 3 and added a free throw to make it 31-22 as North Carolina began to pull away. Berry’s second 3 of the game made it 44-29.
Officials awarded North Carolina a technical free throw after a fan tossed a mini, palm-size basketball on the court. Officials said it was the second time in the game a fan had tossed an object into play.
Dunleavy said he “did not know about that rule,” but cracked that he would starting taking a Tulane fan to road games with instructions to “take a couple balls with you and toss them out there just when I need it.”
North Carolina performed as expected against over-matched Tulane, so voters might be inclined to keep the Tar Heels where they are unless one of the five teams above them stumbles.
North Carolina plays its home opener on Sunday afternoon against Chattanooga.
Tulane returns to its regular, on-campus home venue on Monday night to host Southeastern Louisiana.