Kenny Williams, the North Carolina sophomore, needed all of four minutes and 40 seconds to do what he didn’t come close to doing during his entire freshman year, and what he hadn’t done through eight games this season.
By the end of that stretch on Sunday, Williams had scored 14 points, and the Tar Heels were well on their way to an 95-50 victory against Radford that was as easy and decisive as expected. For UNC the story early was Williams, the 6-foot-4 guard.
A late addition to the Tar Heels’ 2015 recruiting class, Williams arrived in college known for his shooting ability. And yet during his first college season, he rarely received the opportunity to showcase it. He made one 3-pointer all of last year.
Williams surpassed that total during the third game of his sophomore season. And during UNC’s first eight games, he proved himself as a reliable complement to Joel Berry, the junior guard who has established himself as the Tar Heels’ best perimeter shooter.
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Even so, Williams had never put together a stretch close to what he experienced during the first five minutes at the Smith Center. After scoring on a layup on UNC’s second possession, Williams made his first 3-pointer with 18 minutes, 14 seconds remaining before halftime.
Sixty-eight seconds later, Williams made his second 3-pointer. And a little more than a minute after that, he made his third. And then came his fourth, 30 seconds after that. By then, four minutes and 40 seconds into a rout, the Tar Heels (8-1) led 18-4, and Williams had scored 14 points.
Already, that was more than he’d ever scored in a college game. Before Sunday, Williams had never scored more than 11 points at UNC, and those came during the Tar Heels’ victory against Chattanooga on Nov. 13.
After Williams’ initial burst, the game was essentially over. Radford (3-5), which according to kenpom.com is the least formidable opponent on UNC’s schedule, never cut its deficit to fewer than 14 points, and the Tar Heels led 51-27 at halftime.
The half ended in fashion similar to how it began: with Williams scoring. This time, he rebounded a missed a shot and, in one motion, put it back up and in before the buzzer sounded at the end of the first half.
Williams, who made another 3 in the second half, finished with 19 points – one of five UNC players who scored at least nine points. The Tar Heels weren’t as sharp in the second half but, in the context of the result, they didn’t need to be.
UNC’s strong start, one Williams helped ignite, might have been the kind that coach Roy Williams was looking for after his team’s 76-67 defeat at Indiana on Wednesday. That was the third-ranked Tar Heels’ first loss and one that came, in part, because they struggled to run their offense against Indiana’s tough defense.
There were no such problems against the over-matched Highlanders of the Big South Conference. For UNC the most troubling part of the day came when Berry left the game early in the second half after suffering a sprained left ankle.
He was helped off the court, led to the locker room and didn’t return.