CHAPEL HILL — As Roy Williams’ halftime tongue lashings go, this one wasn’t the worst Kenny Williams has ever heard.
“I would say it was a six or seven,” the North Carolina guard said Wednesday after than a less-than-optimal first half performance against UNC Wilmington. “It was calm mad. He talked to us instead of yelling at us. That might be worse.”
Whatever the Hall of Fame coach said to his players, his message was received loud and clear.
The Tar Heels picked up their intensity, especially on defense, stopped turning the ball over and fouling, and finally pulled away for a 97-69 victory at the Smith Center.
Although UNC led by nine at halftime, Williams was visibly upset with his team after watching it commit nine turnovers and send its opponent to the free throw line 11 times during the first 20 minutes.
He apparently had so much to say to the Tar Heels during the break that there were less than 30 seconds left on the halftime clock by the time they returned to the court.
Williams wasn’t much in the mood to talk about what he said during that time.
“I told them we sucked,” was about all he would offer.
UNC (7-2) wasn’t much better on the first two possessions of the second half. A pair of missed Kenny Williams 3-pointers and baskets by UNCW’s Jaylen Fornes and Jeantal Cylla pulled the Seahawks to within five at 44-39.
But that’s when the Tar Heels flipped the switch and ran off 34 of the next 39 points to finally break the game open.
Much of the damage came in transition, aided by the 15 turnovers UNC forced over a dominating second half in which it outscored UNCW 53-34.
“They came out, made a couple shots early and it was like hey, we’ve got to buckle down,,” said graduate forward Cam Johnson, who led four Tar Heels in double figures with 21 points. “We got some buckets, got a few stops and we went on a little run.”
It’s a spurt that was sparked by a somewhat unexpected and encouraging source.
Backup point guard Seventh Woods, playing a career-high 24 minutes with freshman Coby White sidelined because of an ankle injury, responded to his first UNC start by contributing seven points, three assists and two steals.
Although those numbers aren’t impressive at face value, it’s when he put them up that made them so important.
The former YouTube sensation, whose college career has been slowed by injuries and inconsistency, scored his team’s first three baskets of the second half — on a pair of drives to the rim and a pull-up jumper in traffic — to finally get the Tar Heels off and running.
“I was being aggressive on the offensive end,” Woods said. “I saw an opening, I took it and went to the basket. That’s what Coach wants. I’m going to try to do that more.”
Williams would like to see everyone, not just Woods, do more of what they did in the second half.
That is, until the final few possessions when his walkons began firing up wild shots in an attempt to reach the 100-point mark and win free biscuits those in attendance as part of a promotion with Bojangles.
Not only did the fans have to without biscuits, but the 1 for 7 finish also kept the Tar Heels from shooting better than 50 percent for the game. They ended up at 49.3 percent and Williams wasn’t happy about it.
“I’m going to see if they make a deal that if you hold the other team under 38 percent shooting, you (get) dang biscuits,” he said after his team held the Seahawks to 35.5 percent. “That’s ridiculous, the last 30 seconds.”
As far as UNCW coach and former UNC assistant C.B. McGrath is concerned, where wasn’t much to write home about for the final 20 minutes.
With star big man Devontae Cacok limited to six points and six rebounds because of early foul trouble and struggling through a 2 for 10 shooting night with five turnovers, the Seahawks (4-6) barely put up a fight once things started to get away from them.
Cylla led UNCW with 16 points
“The second half was pretty ugly,” McGrath said. “We competed in the first half, then a couple of things didn’t go our way early in the second, we got down on ourselves and just never recovered. Carolina came at us. We knew they would with their double teams, their pressure and their length, and we let it bother us more than we should have.”