The North Carolina men's basketball team didn't need 16 three-pointers to beat Western Carolina on Wednesday. It certainly didn't need to shoot 72.7 percent from deep, the best mark in school history in a game with at least 20 attempts. Shoot, the Tar Heels could have missed 20 of their 22 attempts and still left the Smith Center with a win.
But they made them anyway, because the Catamounts couldn't stop them.
It started four minutes into Wednesday's 104-61 win, when Kenny Williams knocked down his 20th three of the season off an assist from roommate and Luke Maye, the team's surprise leading scorer this season. Williams buried another off a screen two possessions later, and he sank his third open look to put the Tar Heels (9-1) up by 25 points over Western Carolina (3-7) with seven minutes left in the opening half.
Williams finished with 13 points on Wednesday and 22 made threes on the season, fifth most in the ACC. He's three triples short of qualifying for ACC and NCAA leaderboards, but if he qualified, his 55.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc would rank comfortably atop the conference and just outside the top five nationally.
"Whenever Kenny's shooting like that from the jump, I know that'll trickle down to everybody," Joel Berry said. "When he hit his first three I was like, 'Yeah, it's going to be pretty good night from the three-point line.'"
Three other Tar Heels knocked down a three in the first half — Maye (two), Jalek Felton (two) and Brandon Robinson (one) — as UNC drilled eight of its 11 attempts. Williams cooled off in the second half, as he's tended to do this season. But his teammates didn't.
"I don't think you can pinpoint one guy that stands out," Williams said. "Because all of us can knock it down."
Despite a wealth of talent and experience in the backcourt, North Carolina hasn't been a three-point shooting team thus far. The Tar Heels came into Wednesday's game with the sixth-fewest three-point attempts (166) in the ACC and just the eighth-best percentage (35.5).
After the game, UNC's rankings shot up to sixth in attempts (188) and fourth in percentage (39.9), with five players shooting at least 38 percent. Berry (36.2 percent) sits just behind on a team-high 58 attempts.
After Williams missed only three-point attempt of the second half, it was Berry who knocked down the Tar Heels' next perimeter look, his first of the game. A minute later, the senior guard hit another, giving UNC a 32-point lead heading into the under-16 media timeout.
"Whenever it's falling like that," Berry said, "you know that's always good for us."
Ten minutes later, the Tar Heels had nearly doubled up Western Carolina with an 87-45 lead. North Carolina already had 13 threes, four shy of the school record and three short of the most in Roy Williams' 15-year tenure. It seemed everything was going right.
With the opposing defense lost on the perimeter, Felton glided to the basket for an alley-oop attempt. The pass from Robinson was low, and Felton never quite corraled it. Brandon Huffman gathered the rebound, but he was rejected by the rim on his two-handed dunk attempt. The ball rolled around the lane, seemingly doomed for chaos. Everything was going wrong.
But, of course, it wasn't. Not on this night. The ball found Andrew Platek, who found a wide-open Felton in the right corner. It went in, naturally, to give the Tar Heels (90) twice as many points as the Catamounts (45).
There was nothing they could do to stop it.
"Once guys see a couple of them go in," Kenny Williams said, "the rim looks bigger for everybody."
A minute later, Platek added to the onslaught with his third three of the night, putting him at 50.0 percent from deep on the year. And with just over a minute left, the game already well out of hand, Felton launched another with the school record at stake.
Did you really think he would miss?
"The first two were pretty good," said Felton, who had a game-high 15 points on four made threes. "So I figured the next couple were going to go in, too."
It was that kind of night for UNC. Six Tar Heels made at least two three-pointers, and only Theo Pinson, predictably, attempted a three without making one. North Carolina didn't even shoot particularly well elsewhere — shooting 21-of-41 (48.8 percent) from two-point range and 14-of-21 (66.7 percent) from the free-throw line — but 16 made threes served as a fine alternative.
"We could have gotten the ball inside and taken advantage of our height and them being so small," said Berry, who finished with 12 points and those two second-half threes. "But when you're shooting the ball like that, you gotta keep shooting."
A showing like this is more a product of superb passing than shooting touch, with many of UNC's threes coming off wide-open looks. The Tar Heels finished with 31 assists on 37 made shots, the highest total under Roy Williams. But the ball still had to go in the basket, as Williams would say, and the team has no shortage of shot-makers.
Just over a week removed from hitting rock bottom in an ugly loss to Michigan State in Portland, Ore. — shooting 1-for-18 from three, worst in school history — North Carolina showed its ceiling.
Consider this: Before the team's first game on Nov. 10, Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson drew offseason praise as possibly the team's most prolific three-point shooter. He hasn't played a game yet, missing the opener with a sprained neck before tearing the meniscus in his left knee a week later.
But when he returns?
"Honestly, I can't wait," Berry said. "Because that'll open up extra driving lanes and give us space."
The Tar Heels are also without sophomore guard Seventh Woods, whose fractured foot has forced Felton into playing more minutes as the team's third guard.
But for now, this cast will do just fine. At this rate, nobody can stop them.