Remembering the details, for the 32nd time

As with any Duke-Carolina game, the fans will remember the big things from UNC’s 79-70 win over the Blue Devils.

The juke, behind the back, drive and finish through traffic from Coby White in the first half. Cameron Johnson firing the quickest shot east of the Mississippi river to drill a pair of daggers from three. Nassir Little nearly posterizing a Duke player off the rebound before they made a business decision and got out of the way.

But to remember the big things, you’ve got to get the little things right. And no one has done the little things right more than the Carolina Basketball Class of 2019 has en route to the program’s 32nd regular season ACC title.

“I love coaching those seniors,” Roy Williams said, pausing ever so slightly at the press conference podium to collect himself.

“Can you imagine how lucky I have been? They are something else."

———

Cameron Johnson remembers the little details.

The ones Coach Rob, Coach Fred, and Coach Williams get on him for missing.

Boxing out.

Giving effort on rebounds when the balls are in the air.

And getting his freaking hand in that dadgum passing lane.

Cameron Johnson goes up for a layup against Duke. The graduate guard finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in his final game in the Smith Center | Photo by Turner Walston

Cameron Johnson goes up for a layup against Duke. The graduate guard finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in his final game in the Smith Center | Photo by Turner Walston

"It's not a teaching thing, necessarily, it's just they harp on it, harp on it, harp on it,” Johnson said. “You have no choice but to do it or go crazy.”

Johnson said he almost did go crazy once or twice before he fixed it, but he knew the coaches knew what they were doing. Their results spoke for themselves. And through all the coaches Johnson played under in five years in college basketball, three years at Pitt, two years in Chapel Hill, he knew no one worked him as hard as Roy Williams and his staff did.

Johnson did some of his big things in the win. A pair of triples, typical for the graduate transfer. Two clutch free throws to ice the game. But he also did what his coaches taught him. Boxing out, and using his legs to haul in 10 rebounds, combining with 14 points for his fifth double-double of the year. Contributing, even when shooting just 25 percent from three and 38 percent from the field.

That’s Carolina Basketball.

———

Kenny Williams remembers the feeling, the prancing up court, enjoying some of his final minutes in the Dean Dome. Did he drill a three? Flash a sick layup? Maybe, but that’s not why he did it this time.

Instead, it was typical Kenny Williams, picking up yet another charge.

The senior guard has a knack for charges. Getting to the spot before the ball carrier gets there, and using the player’s momentum against them. Sliding his feet just quick enough to beat his man, and force a momentum changing turnover.

A split second too late, and you’re at fault, getting the foul and often giving up free throws. Get there on time, and you get to be the hero.

“There's really no science to it, there's not really a technique,” Williams said. “I got the contact and I fell.”

Kenny Williams pounds his chest after drawing RJ Barrett’s third personal foul on a charge in the first half. The senior guard finished with 18 points, but also three charges on Barrett. | Photo by Turner Walston

Kenny Williams pounds his chest after drawing RJ Barrett’s third personal foul on a charge in the first half. The senior guard finished with 18 points, but also three charges on Barrett. | Photo by Turner Walston

Three times, Duke star RJ Barrett was the victim to Williams feet, and probably should’ve been a victim a fourth time, when Williams forced a turnover out of bounds just as Barrett barreled into him out of control from the wing. So much was Barrett the victim, Williams said, that Barrett even went up to the referees, pleading that Williams was flopping.

Williams smiled at that thought.

“We can talk about it all day, I know what a charge is,” he laughed. “If somebody knows more about the charge than me, then I would like to talk to them.”

Williams did a lot of the big things right against Duke. His shooting stroke returned, drilling four threes on seven attempts for 12 of his 18 points, a season-high. But as much fun as it was to see his silky smooth jumper return, it’ll be that image of him, jaunting with glee up the court at catching another victim to his quick feet, that will last.

A small reminder of the little margins that make the difference.

———

And then there’s Luke Maye, maybe the biggest star of the Class of 2019.

His story is well known by now. He was offered and took a preferred walk-on spot, and later got that scholarship before his freshman year when a recruit fell through. Grinded on the bench, fought through some growing pains that caused folks to not want him to see the court, a thought he admitted, during his senior speech, that even he had at times back in 2016.

And then, he hit the shot over Kentucky to send UNC back to the Final Four. The next year, he averaged nearly 17-10 en route to an all-ACC first team selection.

Luke Maye fadesaway for a shot against Duke on Saturday. The senior forward only scored seven points, but contributed in big ways elsewhere, with 16 rebounds and seven assists. | Photo by Turner Walston

Luke Maye fadesaway for a shot against Duke on Saturday. The senior forward only scored seven points, but contributed in big ways elsewhere, with 16 rebounds and seven assists. | Photo by Turner Walston

And because of those two things, it’s felt like he’s been the player that’s been here the longest, killing Wolfpack and Blue Devils alike for years as he maxes out his potential.

“It hasn't really hit me yet, since we hopefully have a month left,” Maye said. “But, it's been a great ride.”

Roy Williams calls him maybe “the biggest gym rat I've ever known.” Until the end, Maye kept it that way. At 9:30 the night before the game, he was in the gym with Cam, getting shots up as the College GameDay set was set up on the court. 

Maye didn’t score like he usually did on Saturday. He missed 10 of 13 shots, only had one three pointer. And with Marques Bolden out, he couldn’t dominate the post like he did the first game in Cameron. But as Luke Maye always does, he found a way to contribute.

He boxed out and hustled his way to 16 boards to lead all players, his 11th career game with 15 or more. He also led the Tar Heels with seven assists, getting great looks out of the post for shots along the perimeter and on the opposite block.

Finding the little things to create big ones.

Luke Maye basketball, in other words.

———

Sure, some folks might remember UNC’s season sweep of Duke, the Tar Heels’ first since 2009, for the lack of Zion Williamson for all but 36 seconds of the 80 minutes of action. For that thought, Roy Williams put it best.

“Frankly my dear...” Williams paused. “If people need me to spell that out, I can.”

And even more folks will remember the highlight reel moments. The ball tossed into the air at the buzzer. The team cutting down the net at the basket in front of the risers, the Garrison Brooks almost poster dunks finally paying off as he nailed his final two free throws in the closing seconds after missing six of his first eight attempts.

But don’t forget the little things amidst the glory.

Kenny won’t.

Luke wouldn’t.

Cam can’t forget them.

And they’ve got a handful of weekends left to make sure don’t, too.

@sjdoughton