No matter how advanced the metrics get or complicated the math, basketball will never be confused for rocket science.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams understands this.
After having his team re-watch both the Florida State and Virginia losses, Williams gave his players a straight-forward initiative for Tuesday’s game with Boston College.
“Attack, attack, attack,” Williams said was his emphasis in practice after the Tar Heels had scored only 49 points in the loss at Virginia.
That’s just what No. 20 UNC did in a 96-66 bounce-back win over the Eagles at the Smith Center.
Junior forward Luke Maye exploded for 32 points and 18 rebounds, both career highs, but it as much more than just a one-man show for the Tar Heels (13-4, 2-2 ACC).
Williams tweaked the starting lineup, going “small” with wing Cam Johnson making his first start of the season, and got his team to play more aggressive, one through five.
“They don’t have one of those 7-foot-1 guys with one eye in the middle of his head, either,” Williams joked. “So we tried to challenge the basket a little bit more against them.”
That was clear on UNC’s first basket when Johnson crashed the glass and slammed home a Joel Berry miss. It was the first of a season-high 23 offensive rebounds for the Tar Heels, who finished with a 58 to 23 overall rebounding edge.
Johnson, in a season-high 32 minutes, put together his best game with 14 points, 11 rebounds (a career high) and five assists. Senior wing Theo Pinson, starting at the “4” or power forward spot, was also noticeably more active and aggressive with eight points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Berry, who had been carrying all of the offense recently, finished with 13 points. Senior guard Kenny Williams, the fifth starter, finished with 10 points while freshman forward Sterling Manley had his best ACC game with nine points and five rebounds in 11 minutes.
“Everybody played harder on the offensive end,” Johnson said. “I think it was more balance and I think our effort on the boards really showed.”
It was a get-right kind of game for UNC after it had lost a tough game at FSU last Wednesday (81-80) and then was handled and out-hustled by Virginia (61-49) on Saturday.
Maye was so hot to start the season but had cooled off recently. The 6-9 junior wasn’t playing with quite the same energy or joy in recent games, something even his mother noticed.
“She saw my mentality and it didn’t look like I was out there enjoying it,” Maye said.
Perhaps Maye, who averaged 19.5 points over the first 11 games compared to 12.6 the next five, had been pressing too much to try to sustain his hot start.
Williams had his own advice for Maye.
“I told Luke, you don’t have to be anybody else,” Williams said. “Just be Luke.”
Maye and Pinson, right before the tipoff, reminded each other to get back to what had worked earlier in the season.
“We walked out there and just said, let’s just have fun and play for each other,” Maye said.
With their new smaller lineup, UNC did what Williams knows best and went inside. The first set of the game was run for Maye inside. He traveled but made up for it with baskets on four of the next six possessions.
He finished 13 of 20 from the field, including a 4 of 5 mark from the 3-point line. His deep 3, with 1:02 left in the first half, gave UNC a 50-35 lead. It was also a clear signal to Pinson.
“When he hit the deep one, I said, ‘Oh it’s a long night for everybody, might as well just give him the ball,” Pinson said.
But there was more to UNC’s offense than that, notably Pinson’s aggression in getting to the basket. Pinson struggled to get his game going against FSU and Virginia and, not surprisingly, UNC struggled.
“When I play well, the team plays well,” Pinson said.
True but it helped that is was Pinson, Maye and Johnson clicking. Berry’s early shooting woes, he started 1 of 7, didn’t even matter.
“When we all sort of have a good game, this is the result,” Johnson said.
And that’s not difficult to figure out.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio