CHAPEL HILL — There’s a fine line between winning and losing in a conference as competitive as the ACC. For North Carolina and Wake Forest on Saturday, the difference was experience and a little luck.
It was that combination that helped the 13th-ranked Tar Heels score the final eight points and survive for a 73-69 victory at Smith Center in the league opener for both teams.
Joel Berry put UNC ahead with a driving one-hander in traffic with 9.7 seconds remaining and Keyshawn Woods missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer moments later to deny the improving Deacons their first win in Chapel Hill since 2010.
“Coach (Roy Williams) told us at the 1:59 mark to just stay poised, do what y’all do and go out there and make plays,” senior Theo Pinson said. “And we did.”
Pinson, one of four players with national championship rings on the floor for the Tar Heels down the stretch, was instrumental in two of the plays that helped his team pull the game out.
With UNC down by four with just under two minutes remaining, he drove into the lane and dished to teammate Luke May for an open layup that cut the Wake lead to 69-67. He then tied the score with two free throws after taking the ball to the basket himself against the Deacons’ 7-foot-1 center Doral Moore.
Moore’s size figured to give him an advantage against a small Tar Heels lineup that had 6-foot-8 perimeter players Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson manning the two inside positions.
Instead, it worked to UNC’s advantage when — on Williams’ instructions — the 54-percent free throw shooter was fouled as soon as he touched the ball on the low post. Moore missed the front end of a one-and-one with 34.1 seconds to play.
That left the door open for Berry, the Most Outstanding Player of last year’s Final Four, to take care of business on the other end.
Berry finished with 16 points. Maye led the Tar heels with 17 points and 15 rebounds while Crawford had 17 points and five assists for Wake.
“Coach called a play for me and when I got it, I faked like I was throwing it to somebody coming off a screen in the middle,” Berry said of his winning play. “I drove into the lane and saw somebody coming over to take a charge, so I pro-hopped to the middle. Then I saw their big man coming over and I knew he was going to try to block it. I just tried to get it as high as I could. I floated it up and it ended up going in.”
Although Berry’s high arcing shot over Moore’s outstretched hand turned out to be the winning basket, the victory wasn’t secured until Woods’ final shot for the Deacons rimmed out and was rebounded by Kenny Williams.
Woods appeared to have had a clear path to the basket as he raced upcourt with UNC’s Johnson backpedaling to stay in front of him. But instead of driving for a 2-pointer that would have sent the game into overtime, he pulled up for the jumper and the win.
“That’s kind of a decision that you have to make at certain points,” Wake coach Danny Manning said of the final sequence. “If you can get all the way to the basket, get there. But then you also run the risk of knowing that there’s some contact late in games that you don’t get a whistle.
“(Woods) has made shots like that before. I thought it was on line from where I was at, and then it kind of drifted to the left.”
Manning’s Deacons (7-6, 0-1 ACC) made 11 3-pointers in the game, including three each by Crawford and Mitchell Wilbekin, and were six for their first 10 attempts from beyond the arc to start in the second half before missing their final five.
“I told Danny, and I really believe it, that we were the lucky team,” UNC’s Williams said. “We weren’t necessarily the best team and we damn sure weren’t the best coached team out there today.”
Wake outscored the Tar Heels 15-5 on fastbreak points and 13-4 on turnovers. But despite being the smaller team, UNC won the rebounding battle by a 49-35 margin, including a 14-4 edge on the offensive glass.
The Deacons didn’t score a single second chance point. That proved to be decisive with both teams shooting a chilly 39 percent from the floor.
It also didn’t hurt that UNC (12-2, 1-0) has been there and done that — on many occasions — in late game situations with the outcome on the line.
“It’s like, what haven’t we been through?’” Pinson said. “You know everything that you have to do. … You can hear everybody up in the crowd panicking. But if we just do what we do, we’ll be fine.”