Following the sluggish first-half performance that came after Christmas break, North Carolina is vowing to be more focused in its final non-conference home game.
The 19th-ranked Tar Heels hope to be hitting their stride heading into the start of the ACC slate as they host former North Carolina guard Buzz Peterson and his UNC-Wilmington team Tuesday night.
Coach Roy Williams took some of the blame after his team did not practice for five days before returning to the court the night before a 75-60 victory over visiting Northern Kentucky on Saturday.
Though they had an early 14-point lead, the Tar Heels (9-3) were only up 35-30 at halftime. Williams tried to shake things up by pairing reserves Luke Davis, Isaiah Hicks, Jackson Simmons and Desmond Hubert with star guard Marcus Paige to begin the second half.
''I was ticked off,'' Williams said. ''I just wanted to try somebody different. I didn't know what it was. The assistants on my staff did a great job because what I wanted to do was stay out at halftime and run sprints the entire ... half."
North Carolina led 44-37 early in the second half before breaking the game open with a 12-3 spurt.
Starting forward James Michael McAdoo stepped up with 12 of his team-high 14 points in the final 20 minutes. Reserve Leslie McDonald added 11 but Paige, averaging a team-high 18.7 points, also had 11.
The Tar Heels have beaten then-No. 3 Louisville, then-No. 1 Michigan State and then-No. 11 Kentucky, but they've struggled while winning two of their last three. After falling 86-83 to visiting Texas on Dec. 18, North Carolina needed overtime to take care of Davidson 97-85 on Dec. 21 before calling on its bench to get past Northern Kentucky.
This stretch has coincided with the reinstatement of McDonald prior to the Texas game and news that the school would not seek reinstatement for last season's leading scorer P.J. Hairston.
The Tar Heels will try to play with a greater sense of urgency in their final tuneup against the Seahawks (6-8) before visiting Wake Forest in the ACC opener Sunday.
"Everyone is vying for a championship and we have one more non-conference game against UNC-Wilmington like coach said and we need to prepare like it's a big-time game," junior Jackson Simmons said. "Every game should be a big-time game and we have to understand that."
This matchup is certainly big for Peterson, who played for coach Dean Smith and then-assistant Williams on North Carolina's 1982 NCAA championship team.
"Coach Williams has been a mentor to me from high school on," Peterson said. "I look up to him a lot. ... I'm looking forward to coming back and playing against my alma mater."
Peterson, who also had coaching stints at Appalachian State, Tulsa, Tennessee and Coastal Carolina, hasn't led a team into Chapel Hill since the 1998-99 season while at Appalachian State. He's winless in four games overall against the Tar Heels.
The Seahawks have lost three in a row following a 75-61 defeat at UNC-Asheville on Saturday. Cedrick Williams leads UNC-Wilmington with 14.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Addison Spruill is scoring 12.1 a contest.
North Carolina has won both matchups by a combined 38 points, with the programs last meeting in the 2004-05 season.
The Seahawks have dropped 23 of 24 against ranked opponents.