Roy Williams preserves timeouts as if they're appreciable assets that might handsomely reward him one day, but there he was in the final minutes on Friday, contemplating calling one and realizing it was out of character. While he recalled the moment he found the humor.
“Some of the local guys … you guys will laugh at this,” Williams said, addressing a couple of familiar faces in a roomful of reporters after North Carolina's 87-68 victory against Arkansas on Friday in the second round of the PK80. “I actually almost called a timeout twice.”
When Williams calls a timeout, outside of a late-game situation that requires special strategy or a substitution, you know it's serious. It's serious, even, for him to consider calling a timeout. And so it was with 3 ½ minutes remaining on Friday.
The Tar Heels' lead, once 16 points strong, had dwindled to six. The Razorbacks were then in the midst of a 10-0 run, one they needed less than three minutes to put together. Some of their supporters who'd made the trip to Portland were, in the finest of Arkansas traditions, making pig noises.
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His team's lead shrinking, the momentum turning, Williams came close to stopping the game.
And then “I said no,” he said. “These guys got us in this dadgum mess, so let's see if they can get us out.”
And so Williams decided to watch. From there, Joel Berry, the UNC senior point guard, made two free throws to extend the lead back to eight points. Then an Arkansas turnover led to a Theo Pinson dunk that people were soon watching over again on the Internet.
Another Arkansas turnover – on a Berry steal – led to a layup from Kenny Williams, the Tar Heels junior guard. And then yet another Arkansas empty possession led to a 3-pointer from Luke Maye, the junior forward who led the Tar Heels with 28 points and 16 rebounds.
UNC scored the final 13 points, and responded in decisive, authoritative fashion when challenged. It was the sort of finish reminiscent of the one UNC used to defeat the Razorbacks in their most recent meeting before Friday – their game in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In that one, Arkansas led by five points with less than four minutes to play, before UNC scored the final 12 points. And so in the final minutes of their past two games against Arkansas, the Tar Heels have outscored the Razorbacks 25-0.
UNC didn't need a timeout, after all, on Friday after its lead shrunk to six points. And Williams' natural preference of avoiding timeouts proved beneficial to his players, who were left to respond on their own after the Razorbacks tested them.
“He just wanted to see what we could do in that moment,” Berry said, “and I think we responded pretty well, and that's how you close out a game. But he challenged us, and we took on the challenge.”
And, once again, Williams collected evidence that his philosophy concerning timeouts is the right one -- that sometimes, maybe even most times, they’re best utilized when they’re not utilized at all.