Athleticism and execution are big parts of any successful basketball team, and a big part of the close nature of this game was that both North Carolina and Richmond were unable to consistently be both athletic and accurate with their execution during the course of the game.
Early on, it was Richmond's strong execution that, despite North Carolina having the superior size and athleticism, allowed the Spiders to jump out to a 10-2 lead; they then stayed ahead thanks to nailing four of their first six three-point attempts, while Roy Williams screamed bloody murder - or maybe it was "close out on the perimeter shooters", one of the two. Senior leader Cedrick Lindsay putting up 10 points in the first 10 minutes didn't hurt either.
Richmond switched into a matchup zone early on to try to handle UNC's size, and it worked initially, as the Spiders went six minutes without making a field goal at one point in the first half, but still never trailed during that span.
As the half wound down, Brice Johnson got a couple of strong blocks down low, as did his teammates; Richmond attempted seven shots from the field in the last three minutes of the half, and five of them were blocked. Most of those shut-downs sent UNC out in transition, where they really seem to shine, and the offense as a whole seemed to find a little more rhythm, as the Heels closed the half on a 9-3 run to wind up with a three-point lead in the locker room.
It is obvious that, as the season wears on, the Tar Heels are going to have nights where they miss P.J. Hairston, namely since his absence means Marcus Paige will have to go back and forth between point and shooting guard as the game flow dictates rather than sticking to a role.
Today, however, Johnson's athleticism down low created a nice inside-outside game where Johnson's strength inside caused the Spiders to lose track of Paige just often enough for him to drain six three-pointers and lead the Tar Heels with 26 points. That paired nicely with a sparkling 24 points and 11 rebounds from Johnson, whose sub (freshman Kennedy Meeks, who is still clearly playing his way into game shape) likely kept the game from being out of hand sooner.
For the Spiders, Lindsay finished the game with a team-high 29 points, but didn't score in the last 9 1/2 minutes of the first half. He looked to suffer the same fate in the second half until a quick seven-point flurry in the last 35 seconds that kept the final margin close. Kendall Anthony was the only other player to reach double-digit points, and didn't get there until the five-minute mark of the second half.
The Spiders just weren't able to maintain their execution as North Carolina turned up the defensive pressure, as evidenced by their 17 turnovers. This still looks like a squad that can do a lot better than their preseason rank of 6th in the conference, but they will need to find some consistency from long-range if they want to capitalize on Lindsay's ability to create offense (for both himself and others). And someone (I'm looking at you, Derrick Williams and Terry Allen) will need to step up as a consistent threat down low for Richmond to rebound from this loss and take their game to the top of the A-10.