Going “small” hasn’t stopped North Carolina from rebounding big.
The Tar Heels had 19 offensive rebounds and a 26 second-chance points in Saturday’s 80-66 win over Georgia Tech.
It was the third time in four games since Roy Williams put wing Cam Johnson in the starting lineup, that UNC had a rebounding advantage and second time the Heels had a rebounding margin of more than 20.
“(Rebounding) is a huge emphasis for us,” Williams said after Saturday’s game. “And you usually you do pretty well with the things you emphasize the most.”
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The Tar Heels (16-4, 5-2 ACC) won their fourth straight ACC game with a 46-25 edge on the glass against the Yellow Jackets.
They figure to have the upper hand again on Monday at Virginia Tech (13-6, 2-4) as well. UNC leads the country in rebounding margin (plus-12.2) while the Hokies rank No. 156 (plus-1.5).
With Johnson in the starting lineup, that means Theo Pinson and Luke Maye are the forwards. That’s an unconventional lineup by Williams’ standards, but Maye, an undersized center, has been one of the best rebounders in the ACC (10.5 per game) and Pinson (5.6 per game) has held his own.
Maye had 11 rebounds, and Pinson had 10 on Saturday. It was the first time in three games that “small-ball” lineup had finished with a plus rebounding margin.
The starting lineup finished with a 19-6 rebounding advantage against the Jackets but had been outrebounded by Clemson (14-10) and Notre Dame (16-7).
That’s why, even after the decisive performance against Georgia Tech, Williams said: “We’re still not offensive rebounding like I would like to.”
Williams has high standards. The Heels led the country in rebounding margin a year ago (and set a school record on the way to winning a national title).
They rank No. 13 in the country with 13.75 offensive rebounds per game and fourth in defensive rebounds with 29.8. Their total average, 43.55, ranks second in the country (to Duke, 43.63).
Being one of the best rebounding teams is the norm under Williams. It’s the makeup of the lineup that has changed this season for Williams.
He said after the Notre Dame win that his best lineup was the one with Johnson, who had missed the first 10 games with injuries, in the starting five. He has also said the only way to go small is if that group can rebound.
“We know if we want to play with that lineup, we have to rebound,” Pinson said after the Clemson win. “That’s the way it is with Coach.”
Freshman forward Sterling Manley has helped, too. Manley has become UNC’s top forward off the bench, ahead of fellow freshman Garrison Brooks (who started the first 16 games). Manley has averaged 7 points and 3.3 rebounds, in only 9.5 minutes, since Williams made the lineup switch.
He has given the Heels size when they need it and the flexibility, for when they play bigger teams, to match up.
Virginia Tech, which plays a similar four-guard set with one big, is actually a better matchup for UNC than either Clemson or Georgia Tech.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
No. 15 UNC at Virginia Tech
When: 7 p.m., Monday
Where: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va.
TV/radio: ESPN, 106.1-WTKK
UNC (16-4, 5-2 ACC)
G Joel Berry 17.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Kenny Williams 11.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Cam Johnson 11.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg
G Theo Pinson 9.2 ppg, 4.4 apg
F Luke Maye 17.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg
Virginia Tech (13-6, 2-4 ACC)
G Justin Robinson 12.2 ppg, 5.6 apg
G Ahmed Hill 14.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Nickeil Alexander-Walker 11.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg
G Justin Bibbs 13.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg
F Kerry Blackshear 13.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg
Storyline: UNC ranks No. 296 in the country 3-point defense (opponents shoot 37.1 percent from behind the line) while the Hokies excel at the 3-ball (No. 25, 39.7 percent).