A heavily-contested floater from senior point guard Joel Berry with 10 seconds remaining helped the 13th-ranked Tar Heels escape a serious upset bid Saturday afternoon at the Dean Smith Center, as UNC defeated the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 73-69.
Having watched a nine-point lead midway through the second half transform into a four-point deficit with time running out, the Tar Heels (12-2, 1-0 ACC) were on the verge of their second straight home loss until head coach Roy Williams made a slight lineup change.
Williams inserted graduate transfer Cameron Johnson to play in a small, but experienced, lineup featuring junior forward Luke Maye at the center position alongside three upperclassmen–Berry, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson–in the backcourt.
This lineup—which previously rattled off an 11-3 run to close out the first half—pulled off the trick for a second time in order to keep Wake Forest (7-6, 0-1 ACC) from a signature road win.
First, Pinson drove to the basket and found Maye for an easy layup. A pair of free throws from Pinson then tied the game with just 51 seconds remaining.
After rebounding a missed Wake Forest shot on the other end, Pinson ultimately got the ball in Berry’s hands on the left wing.
Spotting an opening in the defense, Berry drove hard to the rim but was met by the outstretched arm of 7-foot center Doral Moore. The result was a high-arching shot that barely got over Moore’s hand and dropped through the rim with 10 seconds left—finally giving UNC the lead for good.
“I shot it higher than usual, but it’s a shot that I work on,” Berry said. “It just went in, and that’s a shot that we needed to go in.
“A big-time player made a big time play at the end,” he added. “And that’s what Coach looks at me to do.”
Following Berry’s floater, Keyshawn Woods’ desperation three-pointer rimmed out for Wake Forest—which allowed Pinson to close the game out at the free throw line.
It was a frantic conclusion to what had otherwise been a game to forget for the Tar Heels.
Although the final score says UNC won—with its top players each gathering their numbers—both teams shot exactly 39.7 percent from the floor and UNC turned the ball over 12 times compared to just seven for Wake Forest.
Maye led the Tar Heels with 17 points and 15 rebounds, while Berry added 16 points himself.
Pinson finished with eight points, seven rebounds and six assists for another solid all-around stat line and both Johnson and Kenny Williams scored in double figures for UNC.
Still, though, their head coach was not impressed with how things played out—letting them know in the locker room afterwards.
“You know that old joke about, ‘Coach, what do you think about the execution of your team?” Williams asked reporters after the game. “I said, ‘I’m in favor of it.’
“That’s about the way I feel right now because we did not have the intensity level that Wake did,” the coach continued. “Didn’t use our brains.”
Unlike last season, the Tar Heels now have a 1-0 start to ACC play. This game, however, proves once again that nothing in the league is a cakewalk—seeing as Wake Forest was picked to finish 12th out of 15 teams entering the season.
While Williams’ assessment of his team may seem a bit harsh, its nothing Berry and company aren’t aware of in their own right.
“I understand where Coach is coming from and I totally agree that if we go out and play like that, there are times where—if we do—we’ll be coming back in the locker room losing by 30 points,” Berry said. “Even though it was a win, we have to be ready to come back and practice harder—just knowing that every night is gonna be like that.”
The Tar Heels will travel to Tallahassee for their next game, a top-25 conference road battle against No. 24 Florida State.
- Luke Maye’s double-double was his eighth so far this season through 14 games.
- UNC is now 10-5 in ACC season-openers under Roy Williams.
- Wake Forest outscored UNC 15-5 in fastbreak points, the first Tar Heel opponent to win that category this season.
- UNC has won 13 of its last 16 games against Wake Forest
Cover photo via Todd Melet