By Oskar Garcia/The Associated Press
LAHAINA, Hawaii — Mississippi State coach Rick Ray has at least one strong approval after losing two of his first three games as a head coach: from North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
Williams said he grabbed Ray after ninth-ranked North Carolina beat the Bulldogs 95-49 at the Maui Invitational on Monday to tell him he thinks Ray is doing a good job.
“I told him that my first year at Kansas, we lost eight games in a row and things didn’t turn around for us,” Williams said. “His kids played awfully hard, we just had too many players for them.”
UNC looked determined not to play the part of a beatable favorite at the tournament, a showcase built on upsets.
Leslie McDonald scored 21 points as one of five Tar Heels in double-figures. P.J. Hairston had 18 points in 15 minutes, Reggie Bullock had 16 points, and Dexter Strickland and James McAdoo each scored 10.
Roquez Johnson led the Bulldogs in defeat with 12 points.
Ray said his team allowed UNC too many offensive rebounds, giving its opponents extra energy.
“Offensively, I knew it was going to be a struggle, but we lost our composure and turned the ball over way too much,” Ray said. “So, we have got a lot to build on.”
The Tar Heels (4-0) scored the game’s first nine points and led 29-6 in less than 10 minutes. Mississippi State never came closer than 20 points behind after that. A fade-away 3-pointer from Hairston put UNC up 42 with 5:30 left in the game and the Tar Heels led by at least 40 the rest of the way.
Mississippi State (1-2) made just seven shots in the first half and shot 28.3 percent for the game. The Bulldogs made just two 3-pointers.
“We have to make sure our guys continue to fight and compete and grow from this and get better,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said.
With the outcome clear early, the game became little more than a highlight reel for North Carolina fans, with the Tar Heels seemingly able to score at will.
Hairston closed the first half by making a 55-foot bank shot, then put UNC up 42 with 5:30 left with a fade-away 3-pointer.
After scoring its first four points, Mississippi State failed to string together back-to-back field goals until midway through the second half.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams emptied his bench, using 16 players. McAdoo played the most with 23 minutes.
Williams said the good shooting masked other parts of the game he wasn’t fully impressed with. Seven turnovers in the first half was too many, he said, and he was not pleased with his team’s rebounding.
“But we made shots, and everything looked good,” Williams said.
North Carolina’s bench outscored Mississippi State by itself with 51 points.
The Tar Heels shot 47.4 percent and 46.9 percent from 3-point range.
North Carolina next faces Butler, which topped Marquette on a buzzer-beater 3-pointer earlier Monday. North Carolina and Butler will play Tuesday in the winner’s bracket of the tournament held at the Lahaina Civic Center in Hawaii.
The tournament, hosted by Division 2 team Chaminade, has grown out of the 1982 upset the school had against No. 1 Virginia, considered one of the biggest upsets ever in college hoops.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia.