CHAPEL HILL – J.P. Tokoto scored a career-high 13 points in his first start, helping No. 12 North Carolina beat Oakland 84-61 Friday night despite missing two key players.
James Michael McAdoo had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Tar Heels (1-0), who played without leading scorer P.J. Hairston and senior guard Leslie McDonald due to NCAA eligibility issues. Marcus Paige added 14 points and hit four 3-pointers, leading a dominating first-half performance that had UNC in control all night.
The Tar Heels ran off a 17-2 run to take a 19-point lead less than 9 minutes in, then nearly doubled that margin to 37 by halftime by shooting 74 percent (23 for 31) in their opening blitz.
Travis Bader scored 18 for the Golden Grizzlies (0-1), who couldn’t match the Tar Heels’ early energy and shot just 21 percent (6 for 29) in the opening half as UNC blew the game open.
Oakland never recovered, a rough start in a difficult first month that will include games against No. 2 Michigan State, No. 15 Gonzaga and No. 22 UCLA.
For the Tar Heels, the performance was a welcome sight after all the turmoil that has hovered over the program since the summer.
Hairston — a 6-foot-6 junior who passed on the NBA draft — was cited by authorities in May and June while driving a rental vehicle linked to a felon and Durham party promoter, raising the possibility of an improper benefits violation. The school hasn’t specified McDonald’s issue, though UNC had to send a letter this summer ordering a company that makes designer mouth guards to stop using McDonald on a website promoting its brand.
McDonald had made at least one social media post last year about wearing one of the company’s mouth guards. NCAA rules generally prohibit athletes from endorsing or promoting a company or product.
The school had said Thursday that neither player would suit up due to the “ongoing” review. Their absences meant a larger role for Tokoto — a 6-5 sophomore who averaged 2.6 points and 8.6 minutes last year — and more pressure on Paige to hit from outside while playing the wing instead of his normal point guard role.
Tokoto showed off an improved all-around game. He buried a pair of midrange jumpers and hit a first-half 3-pointer after managing just one for all of last year, while also throwing a pair of passes for alley-oop dunks in the first half.
Paige hit three of his 3s during the 17-2 run that blew the game open, while McAdoo looked far more aggressive and efficient in his own strong start with the Tar Heels’ first seven points. By the time Tokoto hit his 3 off a kickout from freshman Isaiah Hicks, the Tar Heels had built a 58-21 lead in the final minute before halftime.
UNC freshman Kennedy Meeks added 10 points and five rebounds in his first college game. The Tar Heels finished with 25 assists on 33 baskets.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap