UNC's Big Three hits the jackpot ACC quarterfinal win

CHARLOTTE - For a slot player in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or in Cherokee, N.C., nothing is better than hitting that perfect spin. The first slot slowing down onto the first symbol, 7, the second, 7, and the third, 7.

Jackpot.

It’s rare, of course, because casinos always win, and they can’t give away the riches that come with “7-7-7” every day.

UNC has it’s own version of the triple 7, not quite as rare, but just as sweet. For when Coby White, Cameron Johnson, and Luke Maye hit double digits in scoring together, Tar Heels fans are in for a special treat.

It happened again on Thursday night in the Spectrum Center, where UNC’s trio of scorers lead the way to the Tar Heels’ quarterfinal victory over the Louisville Cardinals, 83-70.

“We came out early and punched them in the mouth,” Maye said.

The trio of Carolina scorers nearly always scrape together double digit performances against the lower end of the ACC. Your Wake Forests, your Boston Colleges, for example. Often, they pull it off against the middle-tier teams. The Clemsons, the NC States. But against the Louisvilles, the Dukes, the Virginias of the conference, hitting that jackpot is a lot more difficult.

Against the top seven teams in the conference, as a matter of fact, the trifecta has only been completed once, with all three scoring at least ten points (Johnson 18, Maye 15, White 10) against Florida State on February 23 in the Smith Center.

But on Thursday, the three leading scorers achieved that feat again, with Maye and White leading the way with 19 points each, and Johnson cleaning up with 14, all in the first half.

“It makes it easier on everybody else,” Kenny Williams said. “With them scoring, defenses start to focus on them, and I think it opens it for the other one of those three, but it opens up for other guys also.”

The trio of All-ACC selections scored in the style they always do. Cam Johnson, in rhythm from the tip, drilling threes and cutting into the lane for easy buckets.

“That's Cam being Cam,” Kenny said. “Putting the ball in the basket, shooting the basketball, that's what he does.

“We like to say it's what we pay him to do. He did his job his tonight.”

Luke Maye, with a mixture of pick and pop threes and bully ball down low, with a bit of offensive rebounding mixed in.

And Coby White, pushing it in transition, driving it to the basket, and drilling the jumper when it came to him.

But mostly driving to the basket.

“I kind of got to the basket,” White said. “I still didn't hit a jump shot. Coach got on me about hitting -- I think I'm like 1 for 18 against them from the three-point line. But I got to the basket, I made some tough plays at the basket.”

His coach, ever proud of the freshman’s progress, elaborated.

“I always want him to be aggressive,” Roy Williams said. “I like point guards that are aggressive, take the ball to the basket and make plays and I think his attacking the rim in the first half was huge for us.”

As Cameron Johnson put it, different guys step up for UNC on different nights. UNC can win when it doesn’t hit jackpot against these top teams. Some nights, like on senior night against Duke, it’s Kenny’s turn to score. Others, like in Cameron, Seventh Woods and Garrison Brooks pick up the slack. Or in PNC Arena, Luke Maye just does everything.

Still, having three scorers all firing on all cylinders helps. And although UNC was mum on the possibility, now probability as this writer files, of playing Duke on Friday, this time with Zion Williamson, its something UNC sure hopes turns up jackpot again.

@sjdoughton