CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – East Tennessee State couldn't overcome its slow start.
After No. 20 North Carolina forced the Buccaneers into the worst first half in the history of its home arena, coach Murray Bartow took whatever positives he could find.
ETSU managed just 12 points in the first 20 minutes of its 78-55 loss to the Tar Heels on Saturday night, setting a halftime record for scoring futility at the nearly 27-year-old Smith Center.
That the Buccaneers outscored North Carolina 43-36 after halftime gave Bartow something to be happy about.
"In these money games, you've got to try to take away something," Bartow said. "Any small victory you can take away from a game like this, you've got to take away. That was, to me, the encouraging thing. We could have totally caved in and quit, but I thought the guys had a lot of fight in the second half."
Rashawn Rembert scored a career-high 18 points. Lester Wilson added 13 points on 5-of-19 shooting with 11 rebounds for ETSU (2-5), but freshman guard Mario Stramaglia had seven turnovers in his first start. Rembert and Stramaglia filled in at the point for injured starter Petey McClain.
"You're really putting (Rembert and Stramaglia) in a tough position, a position, really, to fail, but it's the only thing we can do," Bartow said. "I thought we left them hung out to dry some, kind of left them on an island some."
Leslie McDonald scored 14 points and freshman Brice Johnson added 12 points for the Tar Heels (7-2), who shot 42.9 percent and used a 34-2 run to put the Buccaneers out of this one early, needing only about 15 minutes to go up by 30.
"I don't like to say this, but we couldn't maintain that type of intensity in the second half," UNC coach Roy Williams said.
North Carolina forced 22 turnovers and finished with a season-high 30 assists on its 31 field goals. Its only unassisted basket came when McDonald blew an alley-oop dunk from P.J. Hairston but pulled down his miss and laid it in.
"I'm a vet, so if they say something about it, they're going to have to deal with me," McDonald said with a laugh.
During a stretch of roughly 14 minutes in the first half, the Tar Heels held ETSU to 1-of-17 shooting.
Point guard Marcus Paige, who missed last week's victory over UAB with a jammed left shoulder, was back in the starting lineup and had a season-high seven assists in 21 minutes.
And fellow freshman Joel James made his second straight appearance as the fifth starter, though Williams indicated that spot remains unsettled "because I'm not sold on anybody." James' first start came during that 102-84 win over the Blazers in which the Tar Heels weren't terribly happy to be trading baskets with them all night.
That wasn't a problem at all in this one.
North Carolina reeled off 15 straight points and, later, 19 in a row during the overwhelming run that gave it that 30-point cushion.
Among the high points: the Tar Heels hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions — two by McDonald, one by Hairston — to get things started. Johnson had highlight-reel dunks on back-to-back trips down the court, including a pretty alley-oop from McDonald that made it 41-9 with about 2½ minutes left.
By then, the only thing in question was whether the mistake-prone Buccaneers could scrape together enough offense to get to 13 points — the previous mark for scoring futility in a half in this building.
When Rembert tossed up an air ball just before the halftime buzzer, which left it 42-12 at halftime — wiping N.C. State's dubious accomplishment in 2008 from the arena's record book.
Hunter Harris finished with 11 points for ETSU.