North Carolina's Brice Johnson reacts following his basket against UNC Greensboro during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. North Carolina won 96-63. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome
December 28, 2015

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina's final nonconference game revealed little about whether the seventh-ranked Tar Heels are ready to make good on all those preseason predictions that included favorite status in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a No. 1 national ranking.

In fact, the Tar Heels enter league play facing the same question they did to start the season: Can they guard well enough?

Brice Johnson had 16 points and 16 rebounds to help UNC roll past UNC Greensboro 96-63 on Monday night, the kind of lopsided game that offered coach Roy Williams positives to point to (offense, rebounding) and another chance to drive home his point about defense.

''I'm frustrated because guys shoot 52 percent against us,'' he said after the Spartans did that after halftime. ''I keep saying to them: `Guys, nobody's ever been the best team unless they guarded people.'''

The trick now is stepping up in a demanding 18-game ACC schedule that begins Wednesday against Clemson.

''Obviously we can score. We have so many weapons,'' junior guard Nate Britt said. ''Coach talked about that today ... that we have to improve on the defensive end - and we'll be as good as we can be if we do that.''

The Tar Heels (11-2) took a double-digit lead by midway through the first half and led by 19 by halftime, though they had some trouble putting the game out of reach against the Spartans (4-9) until the final 8 minutes.

Francis Alonso scored 11 of his 17 points after halftime to help UNCG hang around.

This marked UNCG's third loss against instate ACC teams in the past two weeks. Coached by former UNC guard Wes Miller, the Spartans lost by 10 at Wake Forest on Dec. 15 and gave North Carolina State some headaches before falling 58-52 last week in Raleigh.

What has Miller learned from those games?

''That we have some toughness,'' Miller said. ''I do think it's in there. It's not consistent enough, but I do like our toughness. I do like our work ethic. ... They keep coming back every day. And I think we've played better almost every night for the last 3 1/2 weeks.''

TIP-INS

UNCG: Junior Diante Baldwin came in averaging nearly 11 points per game, but finished with seven on a foul-filled night. He picked up his fourth foul in the opening minute after the break and played 25 minutes. . UNCG shot 44 percent for the game. . Demetrius Troy scored 14, all in the first half. . The Spartans were within 11 as late as the 9:13 mark.

UNC: The Tar Heels finished with a 43-22 rebounding advantage, leading to 18 second-chance points. ... Six players scored in double figures and UNC shot 55 percent for the game. ... Justin Jackson scored 14 points.

MEEKS' STATUS

UNC forward Kennedy Meeks, who is averaging 12.3 points and is second on the team with 7.4 rebounds, missed his fourth straight game with a bone bruise on his left knee. He was expected to miss at least two weeks and Monday's game marked two weeks since the announcement.

Williams didn't sound optimistic on Meeks playing this week with ACC games looming against Georgia Tech on Saturday and at Florida State next Monday, saying the junior has done nothing team-related for two weeks.

GOAL NO. 1

Williams said he accomplished his main goal with Marcus Paige: limiting him to 20-24 minutes a game after he jammed his ankle against Appalachian State.

The preseason ACC co-player of the year looked just fine, scoring 14 points in 21 minutes.

UP NEXT

UNCG travels to Wofford on Saturday night.

UNC hosts Clemson on Wednesday night.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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