HONOLULU (AP) North Carolina coach Roy Williams did not mince words after his fifth-ranked Tar Heels struggled in the first half before pulling out their latest win.
Isaiah Hicks scored 10 of his 16 points after halftime to lead five players in double-figures as North Carolina (4-0) beat Hawaii 83-68 Friday night.
“It’s one of the ugliest games I’ve ever coached in my entire life,” Williams said, “but we made some shots during a stretch in the second half that gave us the lead.”
North Carolina never trailed outside of the opening minutes and held a 35-27 lead at halftime despite shooting just 35.1 percent from the field. The Tar Heels had shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of their first three games.
Hicks said Williams’ message to the team at halftime emphasized defense.
“He said that shots were going to fall, but we’ve got to be better on the defensive end, continue to rebound, get to the board and try to get them out of what they do early on,” said Hicks, who shot 7 of 8 from the field.
Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt had 13 points apiece. Justin Jackson scored 11 and Tony Bradley contributed 10 points and 13 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end, off the bench.
“He really gave us a lift,” Hicks said of Bradley, a freshman center. “That’s what really got us through the game, especially Tony just getting to the boards, getting the rebounds and second-chance shots.”
North Carolina led by as many as 18 in the closing minutes. The Tar Heels shot 63.3 percent (19 of 30) in the second half and finished with a 46-23 rebounding edge.
“Their size created some issues, but we can’t lean on that,” Rainbow Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “They’re bigger than us, they’re stronger than us – those are facts – but what we need to focus more on is how to get it done.”
Hawaii pulled to 40-37 on Jack Purchase’s banker with 16:27 left, but North Carolina answered with a 12-2 run that that was capped by a 3-pointer by Kenny Williams from the right wing that stretched its lead back to 64-49.
Noah Allen, a UCLA transfer, led Hawaii with 22 points. Jack Purchase added 14 and Sheriff Drammeh 13 for the Rainbow Warriors (2-2).
North Carolina: Junior guard Joel Berry II entered averaging a team-high 21.3 points per game, but was held to just two. His only basket came on a 14-foot pull-up jumper with about 5 minutes left. … The Tar Heels’ depth was evident as they dominated Hawaii in bench scoring, 28-12.
“It’s not a concern; It’s a good thing,” Williams said of Berry’s night. “I’ve never seen him miss and go one-for-nine. Then again, in the first half our starting one, two and three men were 1 for 16 and that’s not good.”
Hawaii: The young Rainbow Warriors have only three active players back from last season’s squad that won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in school history. Hawaii dropped to 19-104 against Top 25 teams, including a 2-19 mark vs. top-5 squads.
North Carolina took advantage of its size against the smaller Rainbow Warriors by grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and held a distinct edge in second chance points, 28-8. Hawaii had nine turnovers in the first half, but finished two below its season average of 16 for the game.
“We cut down the turnovers, but we made them at critical times. We just couldn’t get over that hump because we couldn’t execute at key points,” Ganot said.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels, who are 30-5 all-time in the 50th state, will face their second straight Hawaii opponent when they take on Division II Chaminade in a Maui Invitational quarterfinal Monday.
Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors will host Division II Hawaii-Hilo on Tuesday, their fifth of 13 straight games on-island to open the season, although five of them are part of two tournaments (Pearl Harbor Invitational, Diamond Head Classic).