Strong 2nd half leads Tar Heels to win over Wildcats
North Carolina used a strong second half Saturday to pull away from a feisty Davidson team at the Smith Center.
The Tar Heels defeated the Wildcats 82-60, bouncing back from an 80-72 loss to Kentucky last Saturday.
Luke Maye finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds, the 22nd doubledouble for the senior from Huntersville. He was one of five UNC players in double figures, joined by Cameron Johnson (17), Kenny Williams (12), Garrison Brooks (11) and Nassir Little, who finished with 10 off the bench.
It was the fourth consecutive game that Johnson has led the team in scoring, despite not getting his first basket until the 6:14 mark of the first half.
“I think we had some guys off the bench who gave us some moments,” coach Roy Williams said. “Those guys gave us a lift.”
Brandon Robinson (seven points) and Sterling Manley (five) joined Little in giving the home team lots of bench production.
Nine players scored for UNC and its reserves outscored the Wildcats’ bench 24-11.
The Tar Heels (9-3) were in a giving mood, sharing the ball at a high level. UNC had 20 assists on 26 made field goals against Davidson (9-4), which took an early firsthalf lead, but never recovered from a UNC run before the half.
The Wildcats went up 24-19 after two free throws from Chapel Hill native Carter Collins, but scored nine points the rest of the first half as the Tar Heels got into an offensive groove.
The Heels started the game by showing fans they worked on their defense during recent practices. UNC forced a shotclock violation on Davidson’s first possession, but the Tar Heels’ offense took a while to get clicking.
UNC had four turnovers in the first four minutes, three by Brooks, the sophomore forward who quickly found himself sitting next to coach Williams on the bench.
After the first media timeout of the game, the Tar Heels appeared to have things together offensively. UNC scored on seven straight possessions to go up 19-15. During that run Williams got scoring from his team in a variety of ways.
Manley hit two from the line, followed by a short jumper from Maye to put the Tar Heels back in front 9-8. Manley hit another layup and freshman Little and Manley scored consecutive layups to make it 14-13 in favor of the Tar Heels. Kenny Williams then got into the scoring act, knocking down a 3 from the right wing followed by a layup.
Davidson, though, wouldn’t go away, shooting 3-for-5 from the field during the same stretch to stay in striking distance, 19-15.
The bad side of the Tar Heels came back to haunt them as they went 0-for-4 with two turnovers in a four-minute span. During that same time, Davidson went on a 9-0 run. Brooks would come in and make up for the early turnovers, scoring five of North Carolina’s next six points before UNC really caught fire.
North Carolina went on a 10-2 run, highlighted by a Little putback dunk, and closed on a 6-0 run in the final 58 seconds.
Johnson followed Little’s dunk with a layup and a bucket from the right side of the basket, and knocked down a deep 3 to put North Carolina ahead 36-28 with 1:14 remaining in the half. Johnson’s 3 was followed by an old-fashioned threepoint play from Maye to end the first half.
UNC held the Wildcats to 26.7 percent shooting from the floor in the first half and forced seven turnovers.
The Tar Heels started the second half on an 11-4 run and Davidson didn’t do itself any favors, missing four straight baskets after starting the half 2-for-2 from the floor.
UNC forced another shot-clock violation and Johnson remained active on the offensive end of the floor, scoring a layup and chasing down an offensive rebound that led to two free throws.
The UNC defense, which looked like it had discovered new life, forced five turnovers in a seven-minute span as the Tar Heels led by as many as 26 in the second half.
It was the final game of the calendar year for the Tar Heels, who were playing just their fourth game in 31 days. UNC will host Harvard on Jan. 2, before opening conference play at Pittsburgh on Jan. 5. North Carolina improved to 6-0 at home and 8-0 when leading at the half.
North Carolina’s nonconference schedule has been brutal, with games against Michigan, Texas, Gonzaga and Kentucky, all in an attempt to prepare for ACC play.
“I think we’ve played the kind of schedule that’s made our guys be attentive every game,” Roy Williams said. “And not just go out there and go through the motions, so I hope that helps us.”
North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson drives against Davidson’s KiShawn Prichett (20)) during the second half Saturday at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Johnson led all scores with 17 points in the Tar Heels’ 82-60 victory.