When asked to describe North Carolina guard Coby White’s game, his teammate Cam Johnson was blunt and didn’t hesitate.
“He’s a professional scorer,” Johnson said.
White finished with 21 points in UNC’s 79-70 win over Duke in Chapel Hill on Saturday. The game was tied at 50 with 15:47 left, when White helped engineer a 25-10 run in the second half. He was responsible for 17 of the Tar Heels’ 25 points in that span.
With the win, the Tar Heels earned a share of the regular season ACC title. They enter the ACC tournament as a No. 2 seed after finishing with a 16-2 conference record, and will play on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals in Charlotte.
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On a night when North Carolina’s seniors — Johnson, Kenny Williams and Luke Maye — were celebrated for their careers at UNC, and rightfully so, it was White who helped take over the game.
His outburst in the second half helped give the Tar Heels a 15-point lead with about seven minutes left.
No. 3 UNC (26-5, 16-2 ACC) never trailed again.
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s going to be an NBA player.”
White said he was happy his team won the first Duke game, but bothered after he finished 3 of 14 from the floor, scored only nine points and turned it over six times. Duke freshman Tre Jones pressured White full court and made him uncomfortable.
“Big time players show up in the big time moments and I didn’t show up that day,” White said. “So I told myself I’ve just got to play better and continue to just grind.”
He did. He had zero turnovers on Saturday and was under control for most of the game.
White, who averages 16.3 points per game, has made it a habit to take over games when the Tar Heels have struggled. His ability to shoot the three and get hot at any time always gives the Tar Heels a chance to come back. As a 6-5, 185-pound point guard, he’s a mismatch for other point guards.
Jones said what makes White difficult to guard is how quickly he’s able to get his shot off.
“He’s coming off those screens and we were switching,” Jones said. “You’re not used to guards coming off and pulling it up right in your face.”
White’s 21 points against No. 4 Duke (26-5, 14-4) was the seventh time this season he has scored 20 or more.
White scored 33 points in a 92-89 loss to Texas on Nov. 22, and 33 in a 88-85 overtime victory over Miami on Feb. 9. He scored a career-high 34 points in a 93-85 win over Syracuse on Feb. 26. He became the first UNC freshman to score 30 points or more three times in a season.
“Nobody has 3,000 points in high school without being a good player,” senior guard Kenny Williams said. “But I didn’t know that he had the capability to take over games the way that he has.”
After the game, when Williams, Maye and Johnson said their final goodbyes in their last home game at the Dean Smith Center, White sat on the bench and watched intently. He said he thought about the bond he had shared with the seniors, and how they had grown together.
Perhaps, this could be his final year at UNC as well.
White has surpassed the expectations of his teammates and draft experts. He wasn’t initially thought to be a one-and-done player, but now that’s certainly possible. His draft stock has continued to rise as the season has progressed. According to NBAdraft.net, White is projected to be picked No. 14 in the 2019 NBA draft.
When asked if he’s thought whether this could be his last game at the Dean Smith Center too, White said ‘no.’ He said he’s focused on the present.
“Whatever happens after the season happens, but I don’t think about it too much,” White said.