The North Carolina women’s basketball team picked up its second consecutive win with a suspenseful 71-67 victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday night in Carmichael Arena. UNC now stands at 12-7 on the season with a 4-7 ACC record.
The nail-biting victory came at the hands of several Tar Heels, with four players scoring double digits. Freshman guard Stephanie Watts once again led Carolina with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Redshirt junior forward Hillary Summers completed her seventh double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore guard Jamie Cherry contributed 15 points and five assists. Freshman guard Destinee Walker added 17 points.
The Hokies, now 15-9 on the season, were led by senior forward Hannah Young’s 22 points, followed by junior guard Vanessa Panousis, who contributed 14 points.
“We shot almost 50 percent and I thought that was pretty good because they’re a really good team,” head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “They’ve had some big wins and some excellent players and some excellent shooters. They’re a great perimeter shooting team, but these guys have just continued to get better and better. We’re light-years away from where we were in November and that’s because they’ve worked hard.”
North Carolina jumped ahead quickly, as the Tar Heels played with energy and tenacity, forcing Hokies head coach Dennis Wolff to call an early timeout with about three minutes remaining in the first period after a Destinee Walker three-pointer, her first of three on the night. UNC would lead 23-10 by the end of the period.
North Carolina had a somewhat lofty lead at halftime, winning 38-21 after making four of their last five shots in the period, and shooting 50 percent at the half. The first half also featured a 46 percent three-pointer completion rate for UNC.
“We did a great job of jumping out at the beginning, as we haven’t been doing in our past couple games that we’ve been losing,” Cherry said. “We actually tied a third quarter and that was our coach’s biggest deal, was to win the third quarter. Even though they outscored us in the fourth, we still hung tough and we stayed poised down the stretch as we did at Boston College and we did tonight.”
What eventually allowed the Hokies to climb right back into the game, despite never achieving a lead and never tying more than once, was not UNC’s usual dreaded third period. What almost did the Tar Heels in was their fourth period, in which they allowed the Hokies to score 24 points, compared to their 11 points.
North Carolina entered the final period of the game with what may have been assumed as a potentially comfortable lead at 60-43, but a 60 percent field-goal percentage and a 66 percent three-point percentage brought the Hokies right up to speed with the Tar Heels. UNC stalled in the first six minutes or so of the final period, scoring only two points and allowing Virginia Tech to creep back within eight points at 62-54.
A 20-4 run eventually relinquished North Carolina’s lead to just one point, at 64-63 with only 44 seconds remaining in the game. A game of cat and mouse, the Tar Heels and Hokies exchanged fouls as the seconds on the clock eventually ticked away. UNC went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in order to secure the win.
Perhaps the biggest of the free-throws were Erika Johnson’s two baskets. Johnson, a redshirt senior forward, is a 39 percent free-throw shooter on the season.
“They’ve had great attitudes and they’re just fun to be around,” Hatchell said. “They make it exciting, that’s for sure. Foul shooting was big, we went 20-for-22 from the foul line and that was major. A good balance with our scoring, we out-rebounded. That was big. It’s fun to win and now we got to get ready for Florida. These guys did a great job”
Next for North Carolina is a two o’clock road game on Sunday at Florida State University.
For close to 37 minutes on Tuesday night, all hope looked lost for the struggling No. 9 UNC men’s basketball team.
Vertigo sent head coach Roy Williams to the locker room in the second half, and the Tar Heels trailed Boston College all game long.
However, a late rally gave the team a much-needed road win, snapping a two-game losing streak by a score of 68-65 over the Eagles.
Not until it was almost too late did UNC look like a team widely thought to be among the best in the nation.
Boston College, the squad at the bottom of the ACC standings with a record of 7-17 and 0-11 in the conference, scored the game’s first basket and held on to at least a share of the lead until the Tar Heels ended the game on a 19-9 run under the leadership of assistant coach Steve Robinson.
Even though UNC, at 20-4 and 9-2 in the ACC, moved back into sole possession of first place in the league, Williams’ health scare dominated the postgame discussion.
“I’m alive, and I’m kicking,” the coach told reporters. “I’m not well, mentally. I’ve had some vertigo attacks over the last 17 or 18 years—this is the first time I’ve really had one during a game.
“It’s called benign positional vertigo,” he continued. “I’ve been diagnosed at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Kansas, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Chapel Hill Hospital—all three.”
Williams collapsed on the sideline during a timeout huddle with just over 14 minutes left in the game. He angrily turned his head around after a disagreement with the referee and the quick, jerking motion triggered the attack.
Robinson, who has been an assistant to Williams for 21 years—both at Kansas and UNC, showed great poise down the stretch, never appearing flustered amidst all the chaos.
“We work for a great guy,” Robinson said. “He has us prepared. I’ve always said going into each and every game that I should always be prepared [in case] he gets sick, or he gets tossed in a game—[so] I can just step right in.”
Much of the chatter surrounding the Tar Heels recently has focused on senior guard Marcus Paige, as he finally snapped out of a six-game shooting slump in Saturday’s loss at Notre Dame.
He had 12 points and hit a trio of three-pointers against the Eagles in this game, but it was another slumping teammate—sophomore Justin Jackson—whose 20 points off the bench led the way.
It was the first game all year in which Jackson and senior forward Brice Johnson did not start, as Williams sat them and junior Kennedy Meeks in search of a spark for the team.
“He responded the way you’d like a guy to respond,” Robinson said of Jackson. “He competed. He played hard. He was involved. He got his shot to go.
“Marcus hit a big three for our team,” he added, referencing the long-ball Paige drilled to put UNC ahead 62-60 with 1:47 left. “And we had a lot of guys make a lot of plays.”
Johnson and Meeks combined for just 11 points and 12 rebounds, but UNC got back on track with its shooting—finishing above 50 percent for the second time in its last seven games, both against Boston College.
Senior guard Eli Carter kept the Eagles competitive by scoring 26 points and hitting five three-pointers, continuing a trend of great perimeter shooting by Tar Heel opponents.
But as the game reached its conclusion, Robinson and the UNC players had Williams on their mind and simply would not be denied.
“He’s like a brother to me and he coached his buns off tonight,” Williams said about his longtime assistant. “And my kids played their rear ends off.
“I was very concerned because I didn’t want to be a distraction.
“I’ll be fine,” he continued. “I’m not dead yet.”
After going 1-2 on this three-game road trip, the Tar Heels return to the Dean Dome for their next game, a Valentine’s Day matinee against Pittsburgh (17-6, 6-5 ACC).
While shooting woes doomed the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball game in its loss to Louisville on Monday, another of last season’s critical issues—the inability to close out games—resurfaced in Saturday night’s 80-76 loss at Notre Dame.
Despite building a 15-point lead in the first half, the Tar Heels slowly fell apart down the stretch as the Fighting Irish (16-7, 7-4 ACC) rallied to hand them their second consecutive loss following a 12-game win streak.
Now 19-4 this year, UNC falls into a tie atop the ACC standings with Louisville—who banned itself from postseason play—at 8-2 in the conference.
The Tar Heels finished the game shooting 45 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range, but head coach Roy Williams was not too pleased with the hustle stats.
“Their coach [Mike Brey] did a lot better of a job getting his guys to play with a great deal of intensity than I did,” Williams said after the game. “Look down there and see 19 points off turnovers for them, zero for us. Twenty-three second chance points for them, 13 for us. Thirty-eight foul shots for them, 21 for us.
“I’ve got to do a heck of a lot better getting our club to play with more intensity than we did,” he added.
Those effort plays crippled the Tar Heels on a night where senior guard Marcus Paige finally broke a six-game cold streak by scoring 21 points and nailing five three-pointers—the same amount of long-balls he hit during the entire slump.
Four of those threes sparked his team to the big lead that had them feeling like it had solved its one major issue.
The Fighting Irish simply outworked UNC the rest of the way–leaving Williams unable to explain what happened.
“Right now I don’t know if I can see my hand in front of my face, so I have no idea,” the coach said, after being asked if he liked his team’ intensity level in the first half. “I’ll look at it on tape.”
“It was easy early, and I’ve got a wonderful bunch of kids—but we’ve gotta decide that we wanna compete when it’s tough, not just when it’s easy.”
All five of Notre Dame’s starters scored in double figures, led by 19 each from guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Bonzie Colson. Colson’s partner in the frontcourt, Zach Auguste, had 15 points and 10 rebounds—including one on the offensive end where he grabbed the ball in front of four Tar Heels.
What’s impressive about these stats though, is that as a team the Fighting Irish made under 35 percent of their shots—or about as many as UNC made in its loss to Louisville.
The easy conclusion says the Tar Heels failed to show the killer instinct necessary when they had the chance to close this one out.
“Well, you know, the thing about it is—we can get up, but this is a tough league,” Williams said. “It’s not just about us. Notre Dame got up as well.
“The world’s not gonna come to an end, but right now I’m extremely frustrated.”
UNC junior guard Nate Britt sat out of the game with an illness, and it was clear the team could have used his defensive prowess and energy as the game wore on.
And although Brice Johnson picked up a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, no other Tar Heel had more than four boards.
All of these stats combined help illustrate just how unsettling this loss should be moving forward, but Williams refused to let his players take the blame.
“The head coach didn’t do a very good job,” Williams said. “That’s the bottom line.”
UNC will have a prime opportunity to end this losing streak in its next game–a road contest against the ACC’s last place team, Boston College. That game will take place on Tuesday Feb. 9.
UNC head football coach Larry Fedora announced Wednesday, on National Signing Day, the addition of 19 new recruits.
Fedora—fresh off an 11-win season and a contract extension—used this season’s success to help bring in the first full recruiting class of his five-year tenure in Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels, who had seven other football commits enroll in January, filled all 26 scholarships available to them–as many of the nation’s top high school players waited until the last opportunity to declare their college intentions.
Some players, such as quarterback Chazz Surratt—North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year—had already made their intentions known for months.
But for others, like cornerback K.J. Sails (the last to announce his decision on Wednesday) Fedora had to show that this team was capable of winning at a high level.
“There were some guys we were still closing on those last couple of months,” Fedora said at his press conference Wednesday.
“So every single one of those wins, every little bit of positive buzz that was going on around the state, or when you talk about the week of the [ACC] championship game where you turned on the TV and it was nothing but ‘North Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina,” he continued. “Every recruit sees that.”
One of the main forces behind UNC’s incredible 2015 campaign was the hiring of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, a national champion as both a head coach and an assistant.
In his first year, Chizik took over a defense that ranked as one of the nation’s worst and turned them into the nation’s most improved. The result was not just more wins, but also more interest from high-schoolers—as 16 of UNC’s incoming recruits play on the defensive side of the ball.
“Most of the recruits that we entertained, starting back a year ago when I got here, were guys that really already had a familiarity with North Carolina,” Chizik said. “I think they were all waiting to see, where is this program going?
“Because we were selling hope.”
Ross Martin of 247Sports.com discussed UNC’s recruiting class with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.
Now that the 2015 team has set a standard for Fedora and Chizik, strictly selling hope is no longer an option.
After matching the school’s record for single season wins in their first year together, there isn’t much room for improvement outside of winning championships. So now it’s about getting kids to buy in to the belief that the Tar Heels can turn 2015 into the norm, one year at a time.
“Gene delivered on the promises that everybody was making when he came,” Fedora said. “All the kids out there see that. They see the improvement. They’re like, ‘Well OK, let’s make the same improvement next year.’”
The one obstacle besides wins and losses that’s hampered Fedora on the recruiting trail at UNC has been the threat of NCAA sanctions due to the academic scandal.
While the rulings in the case aren’t expected to be delivered until the spring, Fedora took the opportunity to let everyone know now that the days of it affecting his team are over.
“I really believe that cloud that’s been hanging over our head for the previous four years has dissipated,” Fedora said. “It’s not there. It’s not like it was.
“Even though I think people still try to use that out there, I just think people are tired of hearing about it,” he continued. “And they know there’s been a lot of ‘crying wolf’ about what’s gonna happen—and that none of those things has happened.
“So they feel comfortable with what we’re saying.”
If that proves to be true, then all signs point to a bright future for UNC football—possibly the most prolific stretch in program history–given all the talent returning to play next year with the 26 incoming freshmen.
“Winning helps in every aspect of the program, but definitely in recruiting,” Fedora said. “And I think toward the end of the year you felt that bump, and I think you’re gonna feel that bump into the 2017 class, and into the ’18 class.”
The No. 2 UNC men’s basketball team has earned a reputation for having great depth and the ability to win ugly games.
On Monday night, though, the Tar Heels may have played with fire for a little too long—shooting a season-low 34 percent in a 71-65 road loss to the No. 19 Louisville Cardinals, snapping a 12-game win streak.
As shot after shot clanged off the rim against the Cardinals’ high-pressure defense, UNC head coach Roy Williams could only watch as the clock hit triple zeroes and Louisville’s players dabbed in celebration after handing the ACC’s only unbeaten team its first conference loss after an 8-0 start.
Williams’ squad might be 19-3 overall, with all three losses coming on the road, but it’s shot under 40 percent in four of its last five games—forcing him to point out the obvious, and then explain what happened.
“We didn’t put the ball in the basket,” he said, after the game. “But their zone made it difficult for us to get it inside to our big guys.”
Senior forward Brice Johnson put together another double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but was limited to just six shots against the Cardinals—who improve to 18-4 this season with a 7-2 mark in the ACC.
His partner-in-crime, Kennedy Meeks, only scored four points on four shots while held to just 18 minutes as he struggled with foul trouble.
Yet the Tar Heels still had a shot to win the game at the end—a testament to how well they find new ways to get the job done.
Down two points with just 35 seconds left, UNC grabbed three offensive rebounds during that final span—but couldn’t make the clutch plays this time.
All five Tar Heel shots after that point, including three at the rim, couldn’t find their way home– failing to produce any late-game magic.
“On the last play of the game—and I’ve never loved a player more than I have Marcus [Paige]—but we tipped it out and he goes after the ball with one hand,” Williams said. “Their guy comes in with two and gets the rebound.
“Kennedy [Meeks] goes up to get a rebound, and Trey Lewis—one of their guards—goes up to get a rebound and he came over [Meeks’] back and got the ball, knocked it out,” he continued. “I thought it was our ball, should have been a foul.
“But the referee saw it differently.”
One thing that wasn’t hard to see on Monday was that Paige, the senior guard, is still the poster boy for his team’s recent shooting slump. He made just three of his 13 attempts against Louisville, but continued to play strong in other areas–and his coach made sure to let everyone know.
“He hasn’t shot it worth a frankety-frank for the last four or five games,” Williams said of Paige. “Am I supposed to put him out and send him to Siberia?
“He’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached,” he added. “I’m gonna stick with him, I’m gonna coach him, and he’s gonna try to take shots.
“But I don’t have any potion I can rub on people.”
The biggest shock to Tar Heel fans was that the poor-shooting bug found sophomore point guard Joel Berry, who’s become the team’s most consistent backcourt player this season.
“Joel Berry’s been shooting it pretty doggone well,” Williams said. “And he’s 1-for-10 tonight, 1-for-5 from three. We need a little bit better than that.”
With a lid seemingly stuck on the basket for everyone not named Damion Lee—the Louisville forward who scored a game-high 24 points–it made beating a ranked team on the road that much tougher.
UNC played strong down the stretch, but ultimately ran out of gas in front of the raucous crowd, which stayed extremely loud throughout the game in support of their Cardinals.
“I felt like we had a sense of urgency,” Williams said of UNC’s performance. “But their sense of urgency was a little better than ours.”
Two more road games await the Tar Heels following this one on their challenging February schedule, including this Saturday against Notre Dame.
At some point the shots will have to start falling. If they don’t UNC could find itself in a little bit of troube.
Monday proved that elite competition doesn’t leave anywhere near as much room for error.
As college basketball begins to take the spotlight in the sporting world, the No. 2 Tar Heels defeated the Boston College Eagles 89-62 on Saturday—using the last place squad in the ACC as a tune-up before the competition becomes stronger.
It’s now 12 straight wins for the Tar Heels, who are 19-2 this season—including an 8-0 start to conference play.
Despite not having lost since Dec. 12, head coach Roy Williams’ team has struggled to find defensive consistency, and has had problems making shots in recent outings.
Although the Tar Heels made just 11 of their 22 free throws on Saturday, they forced a whopping 23 turnovers and shot 53 percent from the field.
“Before the game today, instead of putting up X’s and O’s on the board I said, ‘Let’s play get better on defense, get better on offense, and let’s give the A-grade effort—see if we’re mature enough to handle this.’” Williams said, referencing the recent sluggish play.
Brice Johnson continued his breakout season with 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who dropped Boston College to 7-14 overall and 0-8 in the ACC.
But it was the backcourt of Joel Berry and Marcus Paige that made the most noise. The two combined for five of UNC’s 12 steals, which netted the Tar Heels 30 points off of turnovers alone.
Offensively, Berry had 13 points and six assists as Paige finally broke out of his own personal slump—letting a big smile loose in the opening half when he knocked down a three-pointer for the first time since Jan. 9 at Syracuse.
“I want you to go the gym, miss twenty-something in a row—then make one and have the whole arena cheer for you,” Paige said to reporters after the game. “I’ve never missed that many shots in a row in my life. So to just finally give one to people, it was relieving.”
There were still plenty of sloppy moments for the Tar Heels, like the poor free throw shooting and a slow start to the first half—but the frenetic defense and improved shot-making provides the team with somewhere to build from.
This game was just the beginning for UNC, Berry said, as the team enters its all-important stretch run.
“Once the shots start falling, and we come together on the defensive end, we can be a great team,” Berry said. “But we have to start doing that.
“We knocked down some shots today, and Marcus knocked down some which was good to see,” he continued. “We just need to focus on the defensive end—that’s the biggest thing we need to key in on. And we’re gonna do that later down the road.”
That road will start with Monday’s trip to Louisville, but also includes a game at Notre Dame– followed by a visit to Boston to take on the Eagles again.
After that road stretch, there’s two games against Duke, one versus Miami and another with Virginia—all teams who have spent plenty of time in the top 25 this year.
Always a master motivator, Williams issued a simple challenge to his players regarding the tough upcoming matchups.
“If we play the way we’ve played the last four games, it’ll be very difficult to win any of those [upcoming] games,” the coach said. “So we’ve gotta play better.”
UNC will now be chasing consistency from here on out, but sophomore wing Theo Pinson said it best when addressing what’s to come in the next couple months.
“It’s go time now,” Pinson said. “And I think we’re ready.”
Just a single off day awaits the Tar Heels, as they prepare to face head coach Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals–who are currently ranked No. 16 in the nation.
With all the snow and ice covering the East Coast, you can’t blame the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball team for thinking this game against Virginia Tech was some sort of vacation.
The Tar Heels came into Cassell Coliseum on Sunday riding a 10-game win streak–then opened up a 20-point lead on the Hokies in the first half.
But after a furious Virginia Tech rally, the Tar Heels were forced to hang on for a narrow 75-70 victory.
It was a comeback that quickly reminded Roy Williams’ team that they were, in fact, on a business trip.
“We started thinking it was gonna be easy,” the UNC head coach said after the game. “And I also took out Brice [Johnson]. I took out Kennedy [Meeks]. Isaiah [Hicks] was out. So three of our top six guys were out because they had two fouls.
“I’ve said all year long, our depth has got to be important to us, and I think it was,” he added.
Johnson, the Tar Heels’ best player as of late, added to his ACC Player of the Year resume with 19 points and 17 rebounds. He also made a significant impact on the defensive end–chipping in four steals and three blocks to help put away the upset-minded Hokies.
UNC is now 18-2 this season (7-0 ACC), but has not played the prettiest basketball over its past three games.
Joel Berry was the only Tar Heel to join Johnson in double figures–scoring 13, despite making just three of his 11 shots.
The struggles also continued for Marcus Paige.
Paige, the senior guard who came into Sunday shooting a combined 3-for-25 from the field with eight points over the past three games, finished with just seven points and made just two of his 10 shots. He did contribute seven assists, however, and hit a pair of critical free throws down the stretch.
“I know there’s frustration,” Williams said of Paige. “I don’t think it’s pressure. He and I talk, so I don’t think he’s pressing or anything. I think he’s extremely frustrated, which, I think he should be extremely frustrated.
“If I had made three of my last 25,” the coach continued. “Hell, I’d be hesitant too.”
As a team, the Tar Heels connected on just three of their 23 attempts from three-point range on Sunday–and made just 37.8 percent of their field goals.
The foul trouble that hampered UNC’s big men early on against the Hokies forced freshman Luke Maye into 11 minutes of playing time.
It also allowed Virginia Tech (12-8, 4-3 ACC) to get to the free throw line 32 times–of which it made 22. The Hokies–led by Zach Leday’s 17 points–drilled eight three-pointers on the day, with three of them coming during the 18-3 run that closed out the first half.
Through it all, UNC still found a way to win–as ugly as it may have been.
“I was not concerned,” Williams said about his team’s recent shooting woes. “But now, I can be concerned if I want to, because three games in a row is enough. [We’ve] got to be able to step up and make some shots.”
It’s been well-documented in recent weeks the amount of depth the Tar Heels have. But this win was more about grit than it was about having a number of different players step up.
As the lead dwindled and the clocked ticked away, Virginia Tech seemed to have an answer for everything the Tar Heels threw its way–until it mattered most.
With the score tied at 68 and just two minutes to play, UNC tightened up defensively and made plays when they were needed.
Johnson and Paige combined to hit five free throws down the stretch, while Berry found Justin Jackson underneath the rim for an easy layup in between.
The Hokies during that span missed three shots and turned the ball over twice.
Williams’ team simply put on its hard hats and did what it’s become accustomed to lately.
Grinding it out, no matter how much whiter it makes the coach’s hair.
Now, the number one ranking awaits.
If the Tar Heels do return to the top of the polls, they won’t make their first defense until Saturday, Jan. 30 at home against the Boston College Eagles–the ACC’s last place team.
Without playing anywhere close to its potential on Wednesday night, the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball team still managed an 83-68 win at the Smith Center over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
The Tar Heels have now won 10 games in a row—and could return to No. 1 next week—even though their brightest star, senior guard Marcus Paige, finds himself mired in the biggest slump of his career.
In the past three games—all of which have come after he got his first haircut of the season—Paige has scored a total of just eight points, including two on Wednesday, and has made only three of his last 25 shots.
Despite Paige’s struggles, his roommate–Brice Johnson—answered the bell against Wake Forest with 27 points and 11 rebounds–lifting the team’s record to 17-2 overall and 6-0 in the ACC.
Johnson was the only UNC player to reach double figures for head coach Roy Williams in a sloppy game that saw the Tar Heels build a 16-point halftime lead, before poor defense allowed the Demon Deacons– now 10-8 with a 1-5 mark in conference play–to stick around.
“We won,” Williams said after the game, following it with a sarcastic chuckle. “I’m as happy as I can possibly be. It wasn’t very pretty.
“Wake struggled, and so did we.”
What’s telling about the Tar Heels’ ability to win games by double digits without Paige producing as he normally does, is that they’re showing how consistent they can be no matter who scores the points.
If that’s the case now, and a double-digit win can be viewed in a negative light, then certainly nobody will want to face UNC when Paige gets it together and everything’s clicking.
Just don’t ask Williams when that will be, because his guess is as good as yours.
“I’ve never had a player in 28 years as a head coach that I’ve got more confidence in than Marcus [Paige],” Williams said.
“So I’m gonna go get a crystal ball, put a wig on, and get some incense.” he continued. “Is that what it is? That smoke stuff? And then chant something to see if I can figure it out.”
It wasn’t just Paige that had an off-night though. The Tar Heels shot just 38 percent as a team, their second worst performance of the season—with the last game against NC State being the worst. They also allowed Wake Forest to make 13 layups in a second half in which they shot just 26 percent themselves.
Sophomore guard Joel Berry, who was UNC’s second leading scorer with nine points, explained to reporters how that happened.
“I mean, we were up 20,” Berry said. “And so we thought we had the game coming into the second half. They just kept playing.
“They didnt get it too close, but we could get another team that could get on a roll and we won’t be able to stop ‘em.”
After top-ranked Oklahoma lost to Iowa State on Monday, the door is now open for the Tar Heels to return to the top spot in the rankings for the first time since late November. All they need to do is defeat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Sunday and they’ll be back atop the mountain.
To reach that point, there’s still plenty of room for improvement—which is scary given the way this team has been able to win convincingly while turning in a few sub-par performances.
“We have all the pieces that we need,” Berry said. “We just have to play to our potential, and not take it easy on anyone.
“I think once we get to that point–and we start buckling down on the defensive end—I think that’ll just take us to being a greater team.”
With that “should have done more” feeling permeating throughout the locker room, it shouldn’t be a shock to hear that Williams was in touch with his inner Mick Jagger as he got ready to leave the arena.
“Satisfaction is not part of my language right now,” the coach said before pausing for a second.
“Nowhere. No. Not even close”
UNC will play four of its next five games away from home, starting with this Sunday’s contest at Virginia Tech, who is 12-7 right now with a 4-2 mark in the ACC.
In just his second game back from a bruised knee—and his first time back in the starting lineup—junior forward Kennedy Meeks scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half on Saturday, as the No. 5 UNC men’s basketball team defeated the NC State Wolfpack 67-55 at the Dean Dome.
Now at 16-2 this season—including 5-0 in the ACC—the Tar Heels are forcing opponents to pick their poison each game as they continue to extend the best conference start since Roy Williams arrived as head coach in 2003.
Despite seeing its three leading scorers–Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, and Justin Jackson–held to a combined 15 points for the game, UNC didn’t panic.
The team simply turned to Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, who scored eight of his 10 points during a stagnant first half, to get the job done.
“For us, our depth has always been a positive,” Williams said after the game. “I think Isaiah and Nate [Britt] really kept us in the game in the first half. And then Kennedy was really much, much better in the second half.”
Although the Wolfpack boast the top scorer in the ACC with point guard Cat Barber, UNC took advantage of NC State’s biggest weakness—depth.
Eleven different players took the floor for the Tar Heels compared to just seven for their opponents.
By the end of the game, NC State head coach Mark Gottfried was having his team play zone defense to try and not only stop the Tar Heels’ inside attack, but also to conserve energy. Unfortunately for Gottfried, Meeks and his teammates saw blood in the water and pounced—opening up a game that was tied at halftime.
“When they got into that zone, you could kind of see that they were getting tired—and also because they were in foul trouble,” Meeks said. “So we just tried to keep attacking them and getting those and-one baskets or whatever it may be.”
Meeks not only made noise with his scoring on Saturday, but he also provided a number of hustle plays, including a few dives on the floor and three blocked shots.
As the Wolfpack players began wearing down, Meeks’ energy was the difference down the stretch. In fact it was that, more than anything else that impressed Williams.
“I think it was just total effort,” Williams said of Meeks’ performance. “You saw it yourself. I asked him ‘Did you really dive those three times or did somebody trip you?’ He said he really did dive.
“But I think that was important,” the coach added. “And his blocked shots [were too]. In the first half he was sort of tiptoeing up there.”
After a week-long break leading up to this game, UNC will now play out the rest of the season without that kind of prolonged layoff.
For that reason, depth becomes more important, especially considering the heavy competition awaiting the Tar Heels at the back end of their schedule.
The fact that Meeks is back at full strength, though, should put fear into the team’s upcoming foes. They’re capable of winning in so many different ways that these players all legitimately believe this may just be the start of something special.
“Somebody had to step up with Brice and Marcus and Justin [not having] their best games,” Meeks said. “It just happened to be me today.
“It feels good to be a part of this team,” he continued. “We’re capable of going really far this year.
A second straight home game against an in-state rival awaits the Tar Heels on Wednesday–as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons make a visit to the Dean Dome.
Carolina held Cat Barber to a season-low nine points on 4 of 11 shooting from the floor, a season-high tying five turnovers and no free throw attempts. Barber had been averaging 8.7 free throw attempts this season.
Marcus Paige scored three points for the second consecutive game and did not make a three-point field goal for the first time in 42 games.
It’s become commonplace among Tar Heel basketball fans over the past four years to ask themselves a similar question before each game.
Are we getting “Good Brice” or “Bad Brice?”
Perhaps nobody has asked that about senior forward Brice Johnson more than his head coach, Roy Williams—creating a fascinating relationship between them.
Thrust into the conversation recently as one of the nation’s best players thanks to his 39-point, 23-rebound game against Florida State last week, Johnson has shown steady improvement all season long and is the main reason this year’s Tar Heels have made the leap to NCAA title contenders.
Despite the growth in his game, Williams knows there is still plenty of potential out there—so he treats Johnson as tough as he always has, almost like a son.
For Johnson, it’s just what he knows. His high school coach, Herman Johnson—his father—treated him the same way.
“It takes a lot for someone to get under my skin,” Johnson said. “My dad did a pretty good job of that sometimes. Coach Williams does a pretty good job of pushing me. He does just about the same as my dad.
“But my dad is my dad, so he kinda did a little bit more,” he continued. “He didn’t want me to be the golden child.”
In recent years, it hasn’t been uncommon for Johnson to appear emotional and distraught during his postgame interviews with the media—even after wins. Many times it’s clear that Williams has just finished using him as an example in front of his teammates—making sure Johnson is never the golden child, whether he scores four points or 40.
“I guess sometimes you can step over the line, and I’m sure I have,” Williams said about the way he pushes Johnson. “But if I’m trying to help you be the best you can possibly be—I sound like an Army commercial—if I’m trying to do that to you, then I don’t think that needs any apology.
“But he’s such a wacko kid,” the coach continued, with a smile. “”He comes in [the room] and I start laughing.”
While the majority of the Williams/Johnson love affair comes behind closed doors, there are times when it spills over into games.
Against Tulane earlier this year, Johnson drew laughs from the bench when he patted Williams’ head as he approached to take his seat.
The next game, against then No. 22 UCLA in Brooklyn, Williams benched Johnson for using profanity out on the floor. Held out for close to nine minutes during the first half, Johnson responded with a then career-high 27 points to lead UNC to victory.
“He does every little thing that he can,” Johnson said of Williams. “I can’t say exactly what he says, but he has said some very motivating things that probably hurt my heart a little bit, and kind of got to me—forced me to play a little bit better.”
Williams has done the same thing since Johnson first arrived in Chapel Hill from his home in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Push him to get a little bit better each day, whatever it takes.
Now the scrawny 6-foot-10 185-pound freshman–who wasn’t on anyone’s high school All-American team—has bulked up to 230, added a mean right-handed hook shot to pair with his explosive dunks, and established himself as the go-to guy for a traditional college basketball powerhouse.
“Joe Holladay told me after [Johnson’s] freshman year—the first day of workouts—he didn’t know if [Johnson] would show up for practice,” Williams said, referencing his former assistant. “He said he thought [Johnson] would go home that day. Brice said ’I thought about it.’
“It’s been a gradual process,” he added. “I keep pushing him, and pushing him, and pushing him. And I’m gonna keep doing that.
“But he’s made some very significant progress there.”
Although Johnson has had a couple off-nights this year, like his three points on 1-for-8 shooting against Clemson, his level of consistency has been the most notable aspect of his improvement.
Naturally a quiet personality, Johnson admits that the expectations that come along with his recent hot streak do scare him a bit.
That’s where Williams comes in, always preaching to him what he’s capable of—regardless of whether he’s in the mood for it.
“It does help for him to say a couple of things that’ll motivate me to get me into the right frame of mind,” Johnson said. “But I don’t necessarily need him to do that.”
As the season goes on and the Tar Heels continue to win, Johnson’s star will continue to shine brighter.
And with it, Williams’ chances at his third—and the school’s seventh—national title will continue to grow larger, potentially cementing this odd couple in UNC history forever.
No matter what happens though, there’s one thing you can always expect Williams to say about his big man, given what they’ve been through together.
“With Brice, you gotta understand,” he said. “Brice is still Brice.”http://chapelboro.com/featured/brice-and-roy-a-love-story