North Carolina coach Roy Williams has a saying he often likes to use after wins with good shooting performances.
It goes something like, “Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket.” In other words, his team did not play as well as the score indicated. And their hot shooting masked some of the mistakes that were made.
UNC beat Georgia Tech on the road 77-54 on Tuesday night, ahead of a much-anticipated rematch with No. 15 Louisville Saturday. The Cardinals dominated the Tar Heels 83-62 on Jan. 12 at the Dean Smith Center. It was the Tar Heels’ largest home loss in the Roy Williams era.
Since that loss, UNC has won four consecutive games, including the 23-point win over Georgia Tech.
The Tar Heels made seven of their first eight shots to start the second half, and used a 25-5 run to take a 27-point lead with about 13 minutes remaining. Graduate senior Cam Johnson and freshman guard Coby White both caught fire. Johnson scored 22 points, and was 8 of 10 from the floor. White scored 19 points and had eight assists. Together, the two players combined to shoot 9 of 15 from behind the 3-point line.
But after the game, Williams used his favorite saying:
Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket.
There were multiple things that Williams was not pleased with. The Tar Heels can’t make the same kinds of mistakes against a team like Louisville.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Rebounding opportunities
The Tar Heels are consistently one of the top rebounding teams in the country. Their desire is to win the rebounding margin by a large number. UNC outrebounded GT 39-34.
But while the Tar Heels won the rebounding margin, there were still some missed opportunities.
The Tar Heels rebound about 35 percent of their missed shots this season, and are ranked 24th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. The Yellow Jackets allow their opponents to grab on average 30 percent of their missed shots.
The nationwide average is 28.5 percent.
But against Georgia Tech, UNC only rebounded 22 percent of its misses, well below its average, and below the nation average.
“For us to miss (32) shots, and we got seven offensive rebounds, so I’m not pleased,” Williams said. “I was not pleased at halftime with that.”
Louisville is a good rebounding team. The last time Louisville and UNC played, the Cardinals outrebounded the Tar Heels 40-31.
The Tar Heels are 0-2 this season when losing the rebounding battle.
2. Luke Maye did not play well
Maye, a senior forward, had one of his worst performances of the season against Georgia Tech. His shot was off and he threw wild passes into the crowd. He finished with four points, nine rebounds, five turnovers and was 2 of 9 from the floor.
“I’ve never seen Luke Maye play a game like that,” Williams said, “so he got that game out of his system, and we still won.”
Williams took Maye out with 8:41 left in the game, and Maye did not return.
Tuesday’s shooting performance was the ninth game this season that Maye has shot 40 percent or worse from the floor. He still seems to be trying to find his rhythm and shot.
“At the end of the day, you have games like that and you’ve just got to move on,” Maye said. “All that matters is the team won and that’s the biggest thing for me. Just getting back to work and focus in on my form and fundamentals, and be ready for the next game.”
One of the games where he shot 40 percent or lower was against Louisville. He was 3 of 14 from the floor, had nine points and 11 rebounds.
Neither Maye, nor Williams seemed worried that this game would have a carry-over effect, though.
“I didn’t play well at all, and I think that’s on me,” Maye said, “but I hope to play better, and we’ll get to where we want to be.”
3. Tar Heels’ hot shooting continues
The Tar Heels had another good shooting performance, this time against Georgia Tech’s zone. While the Tar Heels did not shoot better than 50 percent overall from the floor for the third straight game, they shot better than 45 percent from 3-point range for the third straight time.
The Tar Heels were 13 of 27 from behind the 3-point line against the Yellow Jackets. They have made 29 3-pointers over the last two games. That is the most in UNC history in consecutive games.
Johnson and White were responsible for nine of those 13 3-pointers. As a result of their outside shooting, the Tar Heels were able to overwhelm the Yellow Jackets in the second half.
“Those guys are high level guys,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “They’re both probably NBA players, especially Cameron Johnson.”
The Tar Heels are figuring out that they can have an off-night from one of their top scorers and still play well.
4. In Leaky Black’s absence, it’s next man up
When freshman guard Leaky Black fell to the floor with an ankle injury late in the second half, the arena grew silent. At that moment, it was unclear how bad the injury was, but it did not look good. Williams said after the game that it was an ankle sprain.
But with UNC’s next game less than a week away, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Black would play so soon. He left the visitor’s locker room with crutches and a boot on his left foot.
Black averages 11.2 minutes per game. He is one of the Tar Heels’ best on-ball defenders and can play almost every position. There is no one who can replicate what he brings to the team because of his versatility, but the Tar Heels will need others to step up.
Williams at times has used Black at point guard.
Junior guard Seventh Woods played better than he had in his two previous games. He had a steal and breakaway dunk in the first half. Junior wing Brandon Robinson stepped up on Tuesday. Robinson played a season-high 18 minutes. He scored seven points, and had two rebounds and two assists.
“I thought B-Rob (Robinson) did some good things when he came in,” Williams said.
5. Good practices leading to good games
It was two “mediocre practices” the week of the Louisville game, Williams said on Jan. 12, that led to the 21-point loss. But apparently the energy in practice has picked up.
When asked about the difference for the Tar Heels recently, White said a lot of it has to do with practicing at a high level.
“I think we’re just taking it one day at a time, and just don’t look past anyone,” White said, “...and just trying to get better, and be the best we can be as a team.”
Even Williams has mentioned his team having a good practice.
“We weren’t near as good defensively today as we were in practice yesterday,” Williams said.
Some players admitted earlier this month, that UNC had looked past Louisville. But having already learned its lesson, UNC knows it can’t look past Louisville again.