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November 23, 2009CHAPEL HILL - After North Carolina's loss against Syracuse, forward Deon Thompson did something he doesn't normally do.
He asked the coaches if he could sit in with them while they graded film of the defeat.
"When we lost, I took it kind of hard," Thompson said. "I was invisible in that zone (defense). I wanted to see why."
Thompson didn't get much of a chance to apply that new-found knowledge against Gardner-Webb, though he did eclipse the 1,000-point career scoring mark while leading Carolina with 22 points in the team's 93-72 win.
Instead it was UNC coach Roy Williams who was learning some things by experimenting with his lineup while he had the chance against lesser competition.
If he came to any concrete conclusions about his rotation afterward, he wasn't making them public.
"I'm not willing to say that," Williams said. "But you know you're not going to know unless you try."
One of the things Williams did was pair freshman Dexter Strickland, a natural shooting guard who had been backing up at point guard so far this year, with starting point guard Larry Drew II for the first time.
He also tried a lineup that featured Marcus Ginyard at the point with Justin Watts at shooting guard.
And of course, there was some rotation of Carolina's multitude of big men up front. It was notable that well-hyped freshman John Henson didn't enter the second half until the 11-minute mark and was on the floor with the walk-ons at the end.
"I tried a lot of different combinations out there," Williams said. "We got a lot of things accomplished, except guarding No. 4."
That would be Gardner-Webb guard Grayson Flittner, who tied a Smith center record with nine 3-pointers on the way to leading all scorers with 32 points.
Flittner seemed to knock down shots no matter who was guarding him.
Sure, it was easier for Flittner when Henson was lost defensively and couldn't track him down, but Flittner had nearly as much success with Ginyard draped all over him.
"We were just giving him more space than we needed to," Ginyard said. "We were a step behind."
Struggles like those on defense - as well as 11 second-half turnovers after just five in the first - were reasons that Williams emphasized he and his staff still have a lot of teaching to do because the season began after so few practices.
"We're still trying to give some guys some opportunities to see if they're going to be in the main rotation or not," Williams said.
"I did tell the guys in the huddle one time, we're starting to get close to that point where I'm not going to play everybody just because I like they're smile. You have to produce when you get out there."
For veteran guys like Thompson, minutes aren't likely to change much. But for the rest of the Tar Heels, this game might be the start of determining how much time they see as the season goes on.
"I think right now he's still trying to find out what he has with his players," Thompson said. "Coach is still trying to find out what this team is about."