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UNC by the numbers: Which lineups worked best at Notre Dame

North Carolina’s Brandon Robinson (4) starts a fast break during the second half against Notre Dame on Saturday, January 13, 2018 at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana.
North Carolina’s Brandon Robinson (4) starts a fast break during the second half against Notre Dame on Saturday, January 13, 2018 at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Roy Williams started North Carolina’s smaller lineup again.

The Tar Heels won again.

Those are the only similarities between UNC’s 96-66 win over Boston College on Tuesday and its 69-68 win at Notre Dame on Saturday.

Wing Cam Johnson started for the second time this season, which puts Theo Pinson at power forward and Luke Maye at center. The “small-ball” lineup has been UNC’s most effective since Johnson’s return from a knee injury on Dec. 20 but its shelf life as a starting group might not be long.

After out-rebounding Boston College 58-23, the Heels were out-rebounded by Notre Dame 45-37 on Saturday.

There are few things — his wife, children, grandchildren — Williams cares more about than rebounding.

The starting lineup (Joel Berry-Kenny Williams-Johnson-Pinson-Maye) was on the floor together for 11 minutes and 21 seconds on Saturday and was out-rebounded 16-7.

“Truthfully, our best five players are going small,” the UNC coach said. “But if we can’t get a dadgum rebound, I don’t care how small we want to go, I’m going to put some guys in there that can get a rebound.”

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The Tar Heels' starting lineup, Joel Berry II (2), Kenny Williams (24), Theo Pinson (1), Luke Maye (32) and Cameron Johnson (13) huddle before the start of their game against Notre Dame. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

UNC’s best rebounding lineup was with 6-11 freshman Sterling Manley on the floor (with Pinson at the “3” and Maye at the “4.”) That lineup had a 6-3 edge in 4:59 against Notre Dame.

Williams, who does not think in terms of lineups (rather individual substitutions) is still tinkering with his combinations. He used 19 different lineups, and only three combinations more than once.

Williams is practically starting over with his combinations. Berry, Kenny Williams, Pinson, Maye and Garrison Brooks started 14 straight games together. In the past two games, they’ve been on the floor for a grand total of 1:13.

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North Carolina's Theo Pinson (1) drives to the basket against Notre Dame's Martinas Geben (23) during the second half. Pinson scored 13 points in the Tar Heels' victory. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Two developments since Williams decided to go small:

1) Manley is starting to emerge as UNC’s best big man off the bench.

He had seven points and four rebounds in 10 minutes against Notre Dame. He was a plus-5 against the Irish.

2) Brandon Robinson is Williams’ go-to choice for defense off the bench.

Robinson didn’t score on Saturday but with Kenny Williams dealing with foul trouble and Johnson struggling, the sophomore wing provided a lift with his defense.

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North Carolina's Brandon Robinson (4) drives to the basket against Notre Dame's John Mooney (33) during the second half. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Robinson was a plus-9 in eight minutes.

Actually, UNC’s bench was a combined plus-19 in 40 minutes, while the starters were a combined minus-14 in 160 minutes.

The starting lineup, by the way, has been out-scored 38-34 the past two games in 20:35 of court time. In its first five games together, it was a plus-30 (63-33) in 24:16 of court time.

How the small-ball lineup has fared each game:

UNC coach Roy Williams discusses his frustrations after the Tar Heels narrowly defeated Notre Dame on the road.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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