North Carolina senior guard Kenny Williams said he learned after last season’s loss to Wofford that the Tar Heels could never take another opponent lightly.
Especially Wofford, which UNC faced in its season-opener on the road on Tuesday night.
Wofford was intent on showing the world that its win over the then fifth-ranked Tar Heels last season at the Dean Smith Center was no fluke. It gave UNC all it could handle at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium Tuesday night. At one point, Wofford trimmed UNC’s lead to three points with eight minutes left to play.
But the Tar Heels withstood the Terriers’ push, and went on a run of their own to win 78-67.
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Senior forward Luke Maye led all scorers with 24 points (7-for-13).
“We got a lot of things to work on, a lot of things to improve, but I thought it was a good first step for us,” Maye said.
Cam Johnson, who was fairly quiet in the first half, went off in the second half. He hit three clutch 3-pointers, all from the same spot to help extend the Tar Heels lead. He finished with 17 points. And sophomore forward Garrison Brooks added 20 points.
But it was Kenny Williams who was the story of the game, UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Kenny Williams did not have a single point, but he locked down Wofford’s Fletcher MaGee from start to finish. MaGee, who had 27 points in its win last year, had 21 points Tuesday. But he was 3-16 from behind the 3-point line.
“He chased Fletcher all night long, and that’s hard to do,” Roy Williams said. “I mean Kenny jumped in the air, and (MaGee) stepped inside and hit a floater left handed. He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen from unorthodox position.”
The Terriers (0-1), which returned four of their five starters from last year’s team, appeared confident they would win. And the crowd, which cheered loudly, did too. But UNC brought experience too, including three returning starters, and with it, the pain of last year’s defeat. In the end, the Tar Heels were too much.
Freshman point guard Coby White, who started on Tuesday, had eight points, including a 3-pointer from the wing with 4:18 left that helped ice the game.
“I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t think about it, I just shot it, and you know it went in,” White said.
Freshman wing Nassir Little added seven points, and three assists. But his biggest plays were on defense. He had two blocks.
Both teams started the game out shaky. Wofford missed its first six shots, and committed three turnovers. UNC started out 2-for-6 and committed four turnovers.
After nearly six minutes, the score was only tied 6-6. But Maye got hot, and the Tar Heels went on a 18-6 run over the next seven minutes to lead 24-12.
Wofford never went away.
It was MaGee’s 3-pointer with about eight minutes left to play brought the score to 54-51.
But Maye answered MaGee’s 3 by knocking down three free throws. On UNC’s next offensive possession, graduate forward Cam Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to extend its lead 60-51.
Over a four minute stretch from 10:23 left in the second half to 6:49 left, Johnson scored or assisted on 11 of the Tar Heels’ 16 points. He made three 3’s and had an assist.
“I felt good in shoot around, I felt good in pregame, so all I needed was a couple of opportunities,” Johnson said.
And UNC cruised from there. UNC will next play at Elon on Friday.