Strong second half leads UNC to home win over Davidson

North Carolina used a strong second half Saturday to pull away from a feisty Davidson team at the Smith Center.

The Tar Heels defeated the Wildcats, 82-60, bouncing back from a 80-72 loss to Kentucky three days before Christmas.

North Carolina’s Luke Maye (32) puts up a shot against Davidson’s Luka Brajkovic (35) during the second half on Saturday, December 29, 2018 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Maye scored 11 point in the Tar Heels’ victory. Robert Willett

Luke Maye finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds, the 22nd double-double for the senior from Huntersville. He was one of five UNC players in double figures, joined by Cameron Johnson (17), Kenny Williams (12), Garrison Brooks (11) and Nassir Little, who finished with 10 off the bench. It was the fourth consecutive game that Johnson has led the team in scoring, despite not getting his first basket until the 6:14 mark of the first half.

“I think we had some guys off the bench who gave us some moments,” head coach Roy Williams said. “Those guys gave us a lift.”

Brandon Robinson (7 points), and Sterling Manley (5), joined Little in giving the home team lots of bench production.

Nine players scored for UNC and the North Carolina bench outscored the Wildcats 24-11.

The Tar Heels (9-3) were in a giving mood, sharing the ball at a high level. UNC had 20 assists on 26 made field goals against Davidson (9-4), who took an early first-half lead, but never recovered from a UNC run before the half.

The Wildcats went up 24-19 after a pair of free throws from Chapel Hill native Carter Collins, but scored nine points the rest of the first half as the Tar Heels got into an offensive groove.

The Heels started the game by showing fans they worked on their defense during recent practices. UNC forced a shot-clock violation on Davidson’s first possession of the game, but the Tar Heels’ offense took a while to get clicking.

UNC had four turnovers in the first four minutes, three by Brooks, the sophomore forward who quickly found himself sitting next to UNC coach Roy Williams on the bench.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams reacts to a turnover during the first half against Davidson on Saturday, December 29, 2018 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett

After the first media timeout of the game, the Tar Heels appeared to have things together offensively. UNC scored on seven straight possessions to go up 19-15. During that run Williams got scoring from his team in a variety of ways.

Sterling Manley hit two from the line, followed by a short jumper from Maye to put the Heels back in front 9-8. Manley hit another layup and freshman Little and Manley scored consecutive layups to make it 14-13 in favor of the Heels. Kenny Williams then got into the scoring act, knocking down a three from the right wing followed by a layup.

Davidson, though, wouldn’t go away, shooting 3-5 from the field during the same stretch to stay in striking distance, 19-15.

The bad side of the Heels came back to haunt them as they went 0-4 with two turnovers in a four-minute span. During that same time, Davidson went on a 9-0 run. Brooks would come in and make up for the early turnovers, scoring five of Carolina’s next six points before UNC really caught fire.

Carolina went on a 10-2 run, highlighted by a Little putback dunk, and closed the came on a 6-0 run in the final 58 seconds.

North Carolina’s Nassir Little (5) dunks over Davidson’s Dusan Kovacevic (43) in the first half on Saturday, December 29, 2018 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett

Johnson followed Little’s dunk with a layup and a bucket from the right side of the basket, and knocked down a deep three to put Carolina ahead, 36-28, with 1:14 remaining in the half. Johnson’s three was followed by an old-fashioned three-point play from Maye to end the first half. UNC held the Wildcats to 26.7 percent shooting from the floor in the first half and forced seven turnovers.

The Tar Heels started the second half on an 11-4 run and Davidson didn’t do themselves any favors, missing four straight baskets after starting the half 2-for-2 from the floor. UNC forced another shot-clock violation and Johnson remained active on the offensive end of the floor, scoring a layup and chasing down an offensive rebound that led to two free throws.

The UNC defense, which looked like it had discovered new life, forced five turnovers in a seven-minute span as the Heels led by as many as 26 in the second half.

It was the final game of the calendar year for the Tar Heels, who were playing just their fourth game in 31 days. UNC host Harvard on Jan. 2, before opening conference play at Pittsburgh on Jan. 5. Carolina improves to 6-0 at home and 8-0 when leading at the half.

Carolina’s non-conference schedule has been brutal, with games against Michigan, Texas, Gonzaga and Kentucky, all in an attempt to prepare them for ACC play.

“I think we’ve played the kind of schedule that’s made our guys be attentive every game,” Williams said. “And not just go out there and go through the motions, so I hope that helps us.”

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.