Armed with a smaller, more experienced, starting lineup on Tuesday night, the 20th-ranked Tar Heels avoided a three-game losing streak and pummeled Boston College at the Dean Dome by a score of 96-66.
Coming off a brutal loss at Virginia on Saturday, UNC head coach Roy Williams decided to move freshman forward Garrison Brooks to the bench in order to start graduate transfer Cameron Johnson—a 6-foot-7-inch wing who spends most of his time on the perimeter.
The Tar Heels responded by following a pathetic offensive performance with arguably their best offensive showing of the year.
Shifted to the center position for long stretches in the new lineup, junior Luke Maye put forth the best game of his young career.
Maye found success both inside and outside on his way to a double-double by halftime–and ultimately scored a career-high 32 points. He also added another career-high by finishing with 18 rebounds.
“Coach wanted to change the lineup and went small, so I knew I had to get some points in the paint,” Maye said. “With that small lineup we were able to space the floor and get a lot of driving lanes. And we were able to rebound the ball really well offensively. That was huge for us.”
As a team, the Tar Heels shot 50 percent from the floor and even took care of what Williams felt would be the small lineup’s biggest weakness: rebounding.
UNC gobbled up a whopping 58 rebounds in the game, compared to just 23 for Boston College.
Johnson joined Maye in recording a double-double, as he posted 14 points and 11 rebounds in his first start despite giving up bulk down low.
Joel Berry and Kenny Williams added 13 and 10 points, respectively, while Theo Pinson chipped in eight points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The new starting lineup provided a dominant all-around team performance that got the Smith Center crowd rocking early and often. Not only that, it also provided a much-needed ACC victory in the process.
“We got beat twice in a row, and we weren’t playing well,” Roy Williams told reporters afterwards. “So I decided to do something.
“I may go back big the next time, who knows?” he added. “Going small was also better for our matchups. We decided to go small and change something—and it was a good team to go small against.
“I basically told them if you want to play small, you better rebound or we ain’t gonna play small.”
Guards Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson—each natives of North Carolina—combined to score 36 of Boston College’s 66 points, but it wouldn’t be anywhere close to what their team needed to challenge a UNC offense humming on all cylinders.
Desperately needing a spark to avoid the team’s first three-game losing streak in four years, the Tar Heels found it by starting the smaller lineup.
Although Williams was hesitant to say that he’ll stick with it regardless of opponent, Berry, his senior point guard, wasted no time praising the move—saying that change was needed following the two losses.
“I think it’s a good thing for us, knowing that we can go small and that it’s an option,” Berry said. “The game is changing a little bit now where you’ve got the ‘four man’ going out to shoot threes and [playing] kind of like a guard.
“It just gives you more options on the defensive end when it comes down to switching,” he continued. “And then on the offensive end we’re at an advantage because we’ve got a guard playing at the “four” against their big man.”
UNC won’t stay at home for too long, as it hits the road again this weekend for a game at Notre Dame on Saturday. Tip-off against the Fighting Irish is set for 6 p.m.
- The Tar Heels avoided losing three games in a row for the first time since January 2014. UNC began ACC play that year by losing to Wake Forest, Miami and Syracuse.
- UNC’s 50 points in the first half against Boston College were more than it scored the entire game during Saturday’s loss at Virginia (49). The Tar Heels trailed 6-2 early on, but then reeled off a 12-0 run and held the lead the rest of the way.
- Luke Maye had 21 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, marking the third time this season he’s recorded a double-double before halftime.
- Maye also became the first Tar Heel to score at least 30 points in a game since Tyler Zeller in 2012 and his 32 points were the most by a UNC player at the Smith Center since Wayne Ellington scored 34 back in 2009.
Cover photo via Todd Melet