COLUMN: Taking care of business, for the 28th time

COLUMN: Taking care of business, for the 28th time

You knew it would be alright, admit it. 

When No. 15 seed Lipscomb (23-10), fresh off its Atlantic Sun tournament title, jumped out on No. 2 seed North Carolina (26-10) for a 12-9 lead at the first media timeout, you knew Kenny Williams would knock down four three-pointers to help lead the team with 18 points and a Carolina victory.

Before the final score read 84-66 on the Spectrum Center jumbotron or on the CBS screen you were watching from at home, you couldn't have been nervous when Lipscomb took a two-point lead with under four minutes to go in the first half. 

It had to work out for the Tar Heels. UNC has won at least one game in 15 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Roy Williams hasn't lost a first round game in 27 tries. Things would right themselves, as they always do in this sort of game for the Tar Heels, right? 

Oh, you were stressed? Hanging on every shot? Screaming at your TV screen for the players to stick to a man, to not give up layups and to finish their shots?

That's OK. Roy Williams was on edge too. 

"I think late in the first half, I yelled at them in the huddle and they tried to show me how dumb I was," Williams said. "They went out and played very well the last four minutes (of the half)."

What was said in the huddle during the game's tensest moments? Joel Berry said the Hall-of-Famer asked him at one point if he was afraid.

 Theo Pinson celebrates after scoring a basket through contact for an and-1 opportunity. The senior forward finished the game just three assists shy of a triple double | Photo by Caleb Jones

Theo Pinson celebrates after scoring a basket through contact for an and-1 opportunity. The senior forward finished the game just three assists shy of a triple double | Photo by Caleb Jones

"He asked the whole team," Theo Pinson said. "He knew that'd piss me and Joel off." 

That was all the motivation UNC needed to shake off an slow start littered with turnovers. The Tar Heels came out of the final media timeout and ripped off an 8-1 run in a just over a minute and a half. Pinson cleaned up the back end of an and-1, Berry drained a triple, Sterling Manley got a dunk off a sweet pass from Pinson. And Pinson got on the board again with layup with 2:10 to go, forcing Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander to call timeout.

At that point, there was no coming back for the Bisons.

"It's hard to slow them down when you're not scoring and they're so good in transition," Lipscomb guard Kenny Cooper said. "That's one of the things that kind of let them extend the lead a little bit."

In hindsight, the game was never in as dire straits as it may have felt to the Tar Heel faithful. And a lot of that was Williams' coaching. His team made adjustments down the stretch, and it played hard-nosed defense on Bison star Garrison Matthews. The A-Sun Tournament MVP entered Friday's game off a 39-point performance against Florida Gulf Coast and averaging 22.1 points a game. The Tar Heels held him to eight, on 3-of-14 shooting.

"It was for sure tough to get shots off there, hard close-outs and had some good guys down low," Matthews said. "They were interfering with my layups and stuff. Defensively, Pinson and Williams, they played great."

 Joel Berry finishes his layup after going coast to coast off a steal. The senior guard played 37 minutes and added two three pointers to his team's efforts. | Photo by Caleb Jones.

Joel Berry finishes his layup after going coast to coast off a steal. The senior guard played 37 minutes and added two three pointers to his team's efforts. | Photo by Caleb Jones.

A lot went right for UNC on its own stat sheet on Friday. The Tar Heels won the rebounding battle, 47-29, and held the Bisons to just 35.9 percent shooting and 25 percent from beyond the arc for the game. 

All five starters finished in double figures, and a few had even more impressive statlines. Pinson finished with a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) and was three assists away from a triple-double. Cam Johnson was 5-for-8 from the field with two three-pointers for 15 points. Joel Berry finished with 14 points and bagged three steals while passing Michael Jordan in the all-time scoring list. 

Bench players, specifically big men like Manley and Garrison Brooks, were huge down the stretch. Brooks scored seven points and dominated the Bisons' forwards in the post on defense. Manley cleaned up the defensive boards, all 10 of his rebounds coming on the opposite end of the court, and blended in well into the offense with several nice dunks and finishes at the hoop. 

"My heart was pounding before I checked in, I was so nervous," Manley said. "But once I got in there and started running around a little bit, I was excited. I was good to go."

 Sterling Manley finished at the hoop for the first two of his six points on the afternoon. The freshman grabbed 10 rebounds, the most for a Tar Heel in his NCAA tournament since Harrison Barnes and John Henson had 16 and 11 respectively against LIU Brooklyn in 2011. | Photo by Caleb Jones

Sterling Manley finished at the hoop for the first two of his six points on the afternoon. The freshman grabbed 10 rebounds, the most for a Tar Heel in his NCAA tournament since Harrison Barnes and John Henson had 16 and 11 respectively against LIU Brooklyn in 2011. | Photo by Caleb Jones

It all fell into place at just the right time for the Tar Heels, as it always seems to do in Round One. Roy Williams has now won 28 straight opening-round games in the NCAA tournament. It's a number that sometimes seems crazy to think about. But when he talks like he did at the end of the press conference, it's not hard to see why.

"Last year we played Texas Southern," Williams said. "We won by 40 or 50 or something. Justin (Jackson) made five threes in the first half. Back in 1982, we had Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, James Worthy and we blew out James Madison in the first round 52-50.

"There have been some struggles there. You just got to play. I've never thought we struggled in the first round. I've always thought we struggled more each and every round we go.

"But winner stays, loser goes home. That's the way we try to approach it."

It's an approach that's worked 28 times. And with a date with Texas A&M scheduled for Sunday, it'll have to work one more time if UNC wants to keep its championship hopes alive.

@sjdoughton

Photos by Caleb Jones