There were only 30 seconds left before the start of the second half by the time North Carolina’s basketball team finally emerged from the locker room late Wednesday night.
UNC seemed to be playing with a lack of energy against UNC-Wilmington, and the Seahawks trailed at halftime by only nine points.
Normally, UNC would return to the floor with a few minutes left to warm up. But after the sluggish start to the first half, UNC coach Roy Williams spent a little extra time talking to his team.
Williams said the manager did not warn him there was five minutes left before the end of halftime. But he said he told his team at halftime, “we sucked.”
Apparently it worked. UNC overpowered UNCW in the second half and won 97-69.
“We sweated more,” Williams said of the difference between the two halves. “We were better in the second half. We had more effort. The traps helped us a little bit too.”
UNC graduate senior Cam Johnson led all scorers with 21 points. He was 7-for-14 from the floor and 3-for-8 from behind the 3-point line. UNC freshman wing Nassir Little added 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting.
This was the first regular season game that Williams had coached against his former assistant C.B. McGrath, who is in his second season as the head coach of UNC-Wilmington (4-6).
McGrath was an assistant coach at UNC from 2003 to 2017. He also coached under Williams at Kansas from 1999 to 2003.
“We competed in the first half and then a couple things didn’t go our way early in the second half and we got down on ourselves and just never recovered,” McGrath said. “Carolina came at us.”
The 14th-ranked Tar Heels (7-2), which had lost two of their last three games before Wednesday night’s win, have nine days before they play No. 1 Gonzaga at home on Dec. 15. It will be their toughest test of the season.
Freshman point guard Coby White, who missed Wednesday’s game with a sore ankle, is expected to return by then.
UNC got out to an 18-9 start in the game’s first eight minutes. But UNCW followed that up with a 15-4 run over the next three minutes to take a two-point lead. The Seahawks’ lead only last 22 seconds though.
Early in the game, UNC struggled offensively without White, who had led UNC in scoring the last three games. Against Texas, then No. 17 UCLA and then No. 7 Michigan, he averaged 21.3 points per game. UNC turned the ball over nine times in the first half, and easy shots were hard to come by.
“I don’t think we’ve put together 40 minutes yet of consistent effort to the point we want it to be,” UNC senior guard Kenny Williams said. “Once we get that it’s going to be hard to stop us on both ends.”
The Tar Heels did not shake the Seahawks until about midway through the second half. UNC’s lead was only seven points with about 17 minutes left to play, before junior point guard Seventh Woods went on a 5-0 run of his own to put the Tar Heels up 53-41.
Woods started Wednesday in replace of White. Woods struggled in the first half, missing his first two shots and he turned the ball over twice. But he showed more aggression after halftime, and finished with 7 points and 3 assists in 24 minutes.
Woods’ mini run, was the beginning of a 16-0 run by the Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels were able to push their lead to 23 points with 12:46 left in the game and never looked back, perhaps remembering whatever kept them in the locker room so long after halftime.