The Morning After: First start, fifth starter

Notes, quotes and other tidbits from North Carolina’s 76-59 season-opening win against Gardner-Webb on Friday night:

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Freshman Marcus Paige grew up a huge fan of North Carolina point guards Ed Cota, Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson and Kendall Marshall.

So his feeling as he sat on the bench at the Smith Center on Friday night, waiting for his name to be announced as part of UNC’s starting lineup?

“It’s tough to explain, it’s tough to find words to explain,’’ he nonetheless tried to explain. “… I’ve always wanted to come and play basketball here, so that was a special moment for me. I tried to get past [the emotions] as quick as possible and concentrate on the game -- because if you get caught up in all that stuff, you might have a couple mental lapses on the court. But I did definitely enjoy my name being called as part of the starting lineup for the first time.”

Although coach Roy Williams was pleased that Paige “was in charge out there,” the rookie struggled in the stat box. He finished 3-for-9 with zero assists and four turnovers.

“It’s not good, obviously as a point guard, and I definitely wasn’t happy with that,’’ Paige said of his lack of assists. But Williams pointed out that Paige had multiple passes that would have been assists -- had the teammates on the other end of those passes not missed layups or been fouled.

The four turnovers were of concern to both Williams and Paige, “but he’s freshman, and he’s going to be really good,’’ Williams said.

And the fifth starter is: Sophomore Desmond Hubert (0-for-2, 4 rebounds, 13 minutes) started the game at forward, and then freshman Joel James (3-for-3, 4 rebounds, 4 fouls in 14 minutes) began the second half in his slot.

Williams said Thursday -- when he hadn’t decided who would start in the post with James Michael McAdoo -- that the big-man lineup could keep changing for a while. And it sounds like that hasn’t changed.

“We’re going to play all those guys,’’ Williams said, also referring to freshman Brice Johnson (3-for-6, 5 rebounds, 12 minutes) and sophomore Jackson Simmons (1-for-3, 4 rebounds, 7 minutes).

Strickland returns: Senior shooting guard Dexter Strickland was back in the starting lineup Friday, and he didn’t look like a guy who had ACL surgery last February. He finished with 13 points, looking as speedy as ever as he raced and drove to the basket.

“I thought he did some good things,’’ Williams said. “We’re still not as smooth as I want us to be, whoever is in the game. I get on Dexter a lot for dribbling too much, and one time at the end he’s dribbling but nobody is doing anything to get open. That’s not his fault.

“He does a nice job of attacking the basket, and I think he did that tonight.”

Briefly: Williams opened his post-game news conference with a moment of silence for Eddy Landreth, a long-time ACC sports writer who passed away on Tuesday. ... UNC was 1-for-12 from 3-point land, but Williams still believes UNC will be a good outside shooting team. "Reggie [Bullock] was almost unselfish to a fault tonight. He's got to take a couple more of the shots, and guys have got to be willing to screen for him to get him open, too."

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.