All those jokesters who claim “Roy can’t coach” may have the rethink their theories after Carolina’s stunning comeback win over Virginia Tech Saturday.
Unless Williams deserves an “F” for his pre-game pep talk, very little of what went bad for the Tar Heels Saturday can be blamed on the coach. And almost everything that went right had ol’ Roy’s hand prints on it.
Even after an obviously more motivated Virginia Tech team scored the first 12 points of the game, Williams called a timeout before the first official TV break. That’s a record for the coach who has disdained taking a TO, baby, until his team was down 28 on certain occasions.
The Tar Heels spent barely six minutes cutting the deficit in half and from there it was a ballgame despite two of their better outside shooters being bamboozled by the Hokies’ active zone and their hottest marksman of late still too concussed to play.
Carolina had the deficit down to one in the last two minutes of the first half and literally threw away a chance to take the lead into the locker room when a miss and a turnover led to five straight points for the visitors.
Williams went inside good and mad but his team had wiped out half of the dirty dozen that began the game and had silenced a sold-out Smith Center crowd.
He had kept a fresh defender on Tech’s Erick Green, the nation’s leading scorer who spent the first half mostly moving without the ball and being denied the rock by Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald. In the second half, the Hokies turned Green into the point guard and constant pressure left him almost 10 points under his average and missing two-thirds of his 21 shots. He went nearly 20 minutes of the second half without a field goal.
But the real coaching brilliance in this one was how patient the Tar Heels were trying to solve Tech’s defense, which alternated between a 2-3 zone, a switching man-to-man and a surprise trap after the Hokies sprinted back to take away Carolina’s beloved transition game. The Heels had six fast break points all day. They like to get that many in a New York minute.
The zone paid special attention to Reggie Bullock and McDonald, playing his first game in a month after missing six. Purportedly Carolina’s two best outside shooters coming into the season, they wound up 1-for-13 from the arc, although Bullock’s make did forge the first tie of the game with 13 minutes left to play.
The Heels were in great shape at that point, having kept the Hokies out of the bonus in the first half and still not committing a foul in the second. They never again trailed by more than three, mainly because their zone offense proved smart enough. The alignment left James Michael McAdoo free at the foul line, where he likes to shoot the most facing the basket. And freshman Marcus Paige pump-faked his way at the weak corners of the zone to get good looks of his own.
The result was perhaps the best game of the season for both of them. McAdoo made so many face-up 15-footers that he looked like all-pro Kevin Garnett, finishing with 22 points. He added 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double and eighth of the season.
And Paige scored eight of his college-high 19 points in overtime after both teams blew opportunities to win it in regulation. Without P.J. Hairston, the Heels’ hottest outside shooter of late who sat in civvies after colliding with Strickland at Boston College, Paige knocked down four “3s”, none bigger than one from the deep left corner that gave Carolina its biggest lead (+4) of the uphill battle. He added another jumper from the right side and three free throws to seal the deal and leave the Hokies wondering how the hell they ever lost their 10th game of the season and by 72-60!
The crowd was restless all afternoon as Carolina probed the zone with, according to Williams, too much side-to-side passing and not enough screening. But despite shooting only 33 percent during regulation before heating up in overtime, the Tar Heels got the shots they needed and made enough of them.
“You can’t believe how good of a zone offense team we are in practice,” said Williams, who notched his 690th career coaching victory. And of Paige, the little lefty who faced a phalanx of TV cameras and reporters for the first time in his life afterward, ol’ Roy added, “I’ve said all along he’s a very good shooter. Today he showed that he can become a really good player.”
While Williams prefers horse races, he settled for a chess match that looked like he was facing Bobby Fischer at first. But he hung in there with a team that probably didn’t deserve to win, yet pulled it out with a cajoling coach making all the right moves through overtime. His team wasn’t executing the way he wanted for most of an ugly game, but in the end it was a beautiful checkmate.