Relax, Tar Heel fans.
North Carolina basketball will be OK.
After losing by double digits to Virginia in Charlottesville, UNC’s ACC record was 1-2. The game before UVA, Joel Berry II missed a go-ahead shot in Tallahassee against Florida State, and the Heels lost by a point.
On Tuesday night, though, Carolina righted the ship against Boston College. At least that’s how Roy Williams described it.
“I’ve got really good kids. They care about what people think,” Williams said. “Everybody around here, if things go a little bit south, everyone starts worrying. We had to make sure they didn’t think the Titanic was going under.”
If there was a college basketball program worthy of comparison to the greatest ship ever built, it might be UNC. As a storied program with a rabid fan base and high expectations, a two-game conference losing streak will set off some alarms.
And what does Williams say to that?
“Just shut up and play.”
The Tar Heels did that against the Eagles by dominating on the glass en route to a 96-66 blowout.
Luke Maye was the course-restoring captain that scored a career-high 32 points while adding 18 rebounds.
“The basket was pretty big tonight,” Maye said after scoring the most points by a Tar Heel in the Dean Dome since Wayne Ellington dropped 34 on Maryland in 2009.
For Maye, confidence is key.
“Once he gets into it, it’s hard to stop him,” Kenny Williams said. “He knows when he’s hot. He can feel it.”
Maye was 13-20 from the floor, including 4-5 from beyond the arc. His dominant night may have been catalyzed by Williams’ decision to start Cam Johnson in place of Garrison Brooks. This small lineup of Berry, Williams, Theo Pinson, Maye and Johnson features the 6-8 Maye as the center and tallest player on the court.
Because of Williams’ penchant for playing these five in crunch time, and their effectiveness in those moments, UNC fans have deemed the group the “Death Lineup.”
Whether or not the label fits – Johnson hadn’t heard it and was afraid it meant death for UNC – the results against Boston College can’t be ignored.
Even while playing small ball, UNC set season records in rebounds, offensive boards and rebound margin while scoring 24 second chance points. This effort came after being overmatched and dominated against the taller frontcourts of Virginia and Florida State.
“It was time to change things up,” Berry II said. “The small lineup did well tonight. It spreads out the floor and gives you more options.”
Options like a cutting Luke Maye for a reverse lay-in or a waiting Kenny Williams for a corner three.
So, the ship isn’t sinking anytime soon. UNC will still be a Titanic-sized force in college basketball. Just how that ship looks, though, may be different.
photo by Gabi Palacio