It had been a long time coming for Kenny Williams, and a long time since any North Carolina player put on the kind of shooting display that he did early during the first half of the Tar Heels' 96-72 victory at Stanford here on Monday night.
Williams, the UNC junior guard, suffered a knee injury last January. It forced him to miss the Tar Heels' final 14 games, and so he watched his teammates go on to win the national championship from his seat on the bench. Williams' recovery was long, and slow.
It was only the week before the Tar Heels' first preseason exhibition, he said, when he started to feel like his old self again. He seemed to feel well enough early on Monday night at Maples Pavilion, where Williams did what few others have done in UNC's storied history.
Williams scored UNC's first 14 points, and scored 20 points during the first nine minutes, three seconds. Eighteen of those points came on six 3-pointers, and those six first-half 3s were the most any UNC player had made in a half since 2009, when Wayne Ellington made seven during a game at Miami.
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Williams’ six first-half 3-pointers tied for second-most in school history, along with Hubert Davis and Danny Green.
By the time Williams' completed his display, No. 9 UNC (3-0) held a 26-15 lead with a little less than 11 minutes remaining in the first half. The Cardinal (3-2) never trimmed its deficit to fewer than seven points, and the Tar Heels' passed their first road test of the season with relative ease.
Williams finished with 20 points. Before Monday, he'd never scored more than 17 in any college game, and the one time he did that was the only time he'd ever scored more than 12 points – a mark he surpassed six minutes into the first half against Stanford.
While Williams led the Tar Heels early, Joel Berry, the senior point guard, emerged not long after. Berry rediscovered his touch from the perimeter after he missed 10 of his 11 shots from the field during UNC's victory against Bucknell last Wednesday.
That was Berry's first game of the season after suffering a broken bone in his hand three weeks before the season began. After Williams scored 20 points during the first nine minutes, Berry scored 18 during the final 10 ½ minutes of the first half. He finished with 29 points, two short of his college high.
At one point, Berry and Williams had combined for 41 of UNC's 57 points. The Tar Heels led by double-digits throughout the second half. UNC coach Roy Williams was coaching against a longtime assistant, Stanford coach Jerod Haase. The two exchanged an embraced and some words before tip-off.