From the moment the ball was tipped at halfcourt Sunday night, North Carolina’s talkative Rashad McCants was in the ear of USC’s just-as-loquacious Lodrick Stewart.
“He was just talking crazy stuff, talking about, ‘I’m going to teach you a lesson all night,’ ” Stewart said. “He didn’t teach me nothing, though. I think I did a good job on him defensively, me and the other guards. All I know is we lost.”
Seems that was the point of McCants’ lesson.
The No. 11-ranked Tar Heels put on a clinic, one that featured a suffocating man-to-man and trapping defense and numerous resultant fastbreaks. It had the Trojans out of breath and their heads on a swivel during their 97-65 defeat before 19,995 at the Smith Center.
“We knew exactly what they were going to do,” USC Coach Henry Bibby said. “We talked about transition defense. They got some easy baskets that way and we talked about offensive rebounds and they did that.
“We probably played eight NBA guys out there. We played a Final Four team.... We aren’t going to see too many teams better than that.”
And the Trojans (1-1) probably won’t see as many highlight reel plays as the ones pulled off by the Tar Heels (4-1).
Perhaps none more spectacular than the beauty McCants created with just over a minute to play in the first half.
With 6-foot-11 Rory O’Neil attempting a turnaround baseline jumper, McCants, who gave up seven inches to the Trojans’ senior center, stuffed his shot before stealing the ball and heading up the left sideline. Trojan guard Dwayne Shackleford cut him off before McCants spun past him in full stride, keeping his dribble, and then McCants found his point guard, Raymond Felton, who lofted a perfect alley-oop pass to Jawad Williams for a monster dunk.
It did not get much better for the Tar Heels, or worse for the Trojans.
Williams finished with a game-high 23 points, on nine-for-11 shooting, in 21 minutes. McCants, who entered the game averaging 20.5 points, finished with 13 points.
“We need to practice harder and ... execute better,” said forward Jeff McMillan, who led USC with 10 points. He was the lone Trojan to score in double figures as USC shot 35.3% from the field, 23.8% (five for 21) from three-point range.
“They were fast, maybe a little faster than we expected. We just didn’t keep up with them,” McMillan said.
It did not seem as if the spent Trojans could, even if they wanted. The closest they were was when the score was tied, 2-2.
With USC committing 16 turnovers and the Tar Heels getting nine steals before the half, North Carolina sped off to a 56-28 lead at halftime and had a game-high 38-point advantage, 92-54, with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
For the game, USC had 28 turnovers, six each by point guards Derrick Craven and Gabe Pruitt.
That USC was only outscored by four points in the second half was of some consolation to the Trojans.
“We kept playing all the way to the end, we never gave up,” Craven said. “It was good experience because the younger guys got to play in front of a hostile crowd.”
And they lived to play another day, even if North Carolina, which had just played three games in three days in winning the Maui Invitational five time zones away, was running on fumes.
“I’m still a little jet-lagged,” McCants said, “and my body is taking a toll on me adjusting to the times.”
It started with the Tar Heels’ team speed and defensive dexterity.
“It kind of shocked me,” Craven said. “Usually they trap later in the half. From the jump they started trapping and creating turnovers.”
That was the Tar Heels’ plan.
“Defensively we were in a little bit of a frenzy in the first half,” North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said. “That’s good if you can still be fundamentally sound as well.”
Especially if you’re McCants, and you back up your boasts with a successful lesson plan.