An impressive 83-70 win over the Louisville Cardinals on Thursday night in Charlotte moved the third-ranked Tar Heels into Friday’s ACC Tournament Semifinals.
Louisville (20-13, 11-9 ACC) had major problems keeping UNC (27-5, 17-2 ACC) from pushing the pace right from the tip, which allowed the Tar Heels to build a double-digit lead midway through the first half and stay in control the rest of the way.
The Cardinals pulled within six points early in the second half, but an 11-0 UNC run later in the period helped put the game away for good.
Senior forward Luke Maye tied for the Tar Heels’ scoring lead with 19 points, while freshman point guard Coby White continued to be the engine that makes the team run—as he joined Maye in scoring 19 points despite not shooting well, and also tallied seven rebounds and six assists.
The lightning-quick White led a UNC offense that made 14 layups and scored 27 points on the fast break. Cameron Johnson added 14 points for the Tar Heels, who kept Louisville from ever getting comfortable on the defensive end.
The Cardinals simply had no answers for UNC’s tempo and penchant to run the ball up court even after made shots, which is exactly the way head coach Roy Williams has always taught his teams to play.
“I thought there were a couple things that were good for us,” Williams said after the game. “They came back and got [the lead within] seven, or eight or nine and then I thought our defense got two or three turnovers in a row and then we laid it up on the other end.
“We kept running,” the coach added. “We practice running a lot. And I think that was helpful to us today.”
With the win, the Tar Heels have now won eight consecutive games and 15 of their last 16. All of those victories have come against ACC opponents.
Perhaps most notable about that stretch is that it started right after a 21-point home loss to Louisville back on January 12—the largest UNC has ever suffered at the Dean Dome in the 16 years Roy Williams has been the head coach.
The Tar Heels would go on to get a revenge victory in Louisville a few weeks later, but Thursday’s win clinches the overall season series.
What the win also does is move the team one step closer in its quest to both win the ACC Tournament and lock up a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Williams told reporters after the game he’s never been to a tournament he hasn’t wanted to win, and remains adamant that winning the whole thing in Charlotte is the team’s main goal at the moment—no matter who the opponent may be on Friday. Given how the Tar Heels have been playing recently, it may not matter.
“We’re here,” Williams said. “If they bring the Golden State Warriors out, we’ll play. If it’s Duke, we’ll play. If it’s Syracuse, we’ll play.”
The No. 2-seeded Tar Heels will face the winner of No. 3 seed Duke and No. 6 seed Syracuse in the tournament semifinals on Friday night, with tip-off likely to come a little after 9:30 p.m.
- Coby White’s rebounding and assist totals were each one shy of his career high.
- UNC sophomore forward Sterling Manley entered the game midway through the second half and scored his first points since Dec. 29 against Davidson. He had played just three minutes since missing 16 games with a sore left knee earlier this season.
- The Tar Heels manufactured 15 points off 11 Louisville turnovers and scored 40 points inside the paint.
Cover photo via Todd Melet