North Carolina's Reggie Bullock drives to the basket between two… (Chris Carlson / Associated…)
It has been an uneasy off-season for North Carolina Coach Roy Williams. He had surgery on both kidneys to have growths removed. No matter how hard he tried to be positive, Williams said "so many things" went through his mind.
"My mother died of a kidney issue," he said. "It's not a simple thing."
Both of the growths were benign, and Friday night Williams and his 11th-ranked Tar Heels carried on at Long Beach State with a 78-63 victory. It was a pit stop for North Carolina on the way to the Maui Invitational, and the benefit for the 49ers was a soldout Pyramid with a record-setting crowd of 6,912.
Williams seemed unaffected by his summer of surgery. He was running and jumping along the sideline as if he were a teenager. The game was close for a half, but Long Beach State tried to run with the Tar Heels and the fatigue became obvious in the second half. Layups came up short. Three-pointers went long. Defense was more an angry look, rather than moving arms and legs.
What had been a one-point lead at halftime finished with a North Carolina flourish.
"We were fortunate," Williams said. "They're very good and we stumbled around in the first half. We played a lot better in the second half. It was a wonderful college basketball atmosphere."
Mike Caffey, Long Beach's talented sophomore guard from Riverside, had 14 points, and senior forward James Ennis had 18 points and eight rebounds, but that wasn't enough against the waves of Tar Heels (3-0) who kept running and running.
"I don't think I've ever said of a 15-point loss that it was a great college basketball game, but I think this was," Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson said. "And I want to thank Roy Williams. It meant a lot to our program that he would come here. We just weren't quite up for the challenge."
Four North Carolina players scored in double figures, led by forward James Michael McAdoo, who had 18. Brice Johnson, a skinny freshman, slipped between all the Long Beach defenders and, with five seconds left in the first half, scored a layup off an inbounds pass to give the Tar Heels a 33-32 halftime lead in a game where Long Beach State (1-2) had been mostly ahead.
With 2:18 seconds left in the half after Caffey had made a 12-foot jump shot, the 49ers had their largest lead of the game, 31-25. But the 49ers got only one more free throw the rest of the half and the slightly-built Johnson scored six straight points, including a backboard-rattling slam dunk to bring North Carolina back.
When Johnson slammed home another easy basket and North Carolina scored the first four points of the second half, Monson called a timeout with his team trailing 37-32, its biggest deficit to that point. It didn't stop the Tar Heels, who at one point made four straight three-pointers and had a 62-48 lead. Spurring the charge was sophomore guard P.J. Hairston, who had two of those long-range shots and finished with 14 points.