WINSTON-SALEM — So much for the theory about North Carolina getting caught looking ahead to Wednesday’s showdown at Duke.
The Tar Heels answered any questions there might have been about their focus early on Saturday by scoring the game’s first 18 points on the way to a 95-57 rout of Wake Forest at Joel Coliseum.
Cameron Johnson scored 27 points and hit seven of his 10 3-point attempts as UNC geared up for its upcoming trip to Cameron by handing the Deacons their most lopsided defeat in the 227-game history of the in-state series.
“I told them our job is to try and get better, and that’s what we were focused on doing,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said after his eighth-ranked team improved to 20-5 for the season (10-2 ACC).
“We haven’t talked about the other game. I still haven’t said anything about it. I’ve treated that game just like every other game. That’s way we do it all the time.”
If UNC had its mind on any other game besides the one at hand on Saturday, it was probably Monday’s loss to Virginia rather than the yet-to-be-played matchup everyone else in the college basketball world is talking about.
Still stinging from a game they feel they let get away, the Tar Heels came out flying against the struggling Deacons before a crowd of 14,352 — a majority of which were wearing Carolina blue and cheering for the visiting team.
Johnson made a pair of 3-pointers while freshmen Coby White and Nassir Little made one each during UNC’s game breaking opening salvo.
As impressive as the hot start was, senior guard Kenny Williams said he was even happier about the way he and his teammates kept the hammer down after jumping out to such a big early lead.
The Tar Heels extended their advantage to as much as 28 — at 35-7 with just over seven minutes remaining before halftime while making more 3-pointers (nine) than Wake had total field goals (seven).
UNC shot 74.1 percent from the floor during the opening 20 minutes while holding the Deacons to 20.6 percent (7 of 34). The only downside was the 11 turnovers it committed once the game started getting out of hand.
“Man, besides the turnovers, we were everywhere,” Kenny Williams said. “That’s exactly how we want to play, especially defensively. We challenged them on every shot. We made it tough on them and we were hitting shots, also.”
The Tar Heels continued to extend their lead into the second half, opening that period with a 15-4 run. The final 38-point margin was UNC’s largest ever in an ACC road game, along with Wake Forest’s worst loss in its current home arena and the second-largest home loss ever.
“Coach doesn’t want us to look at the score, but you don’t want to look up at it and let up. You got there doing something and doing something right. We just wanted to keep on the gas today.”
While the Tar Heels were running on high octane, the Deacons (9-15, 2-10) had a hard time just getting out of bed.
Second-leading scorer Jaylen Hoard was held out of the game’s opening eight minutes by coach Danny Manning because he overslept. He ended up scoring 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting, the only Wake player in double figures. But it barely made a ripple because of how bad everyone else on his team was.
Leading scorer Brandon Childress, who is in the throes of a horrendous shooting slump, went 0 for 12 overall and 0 for 8 from 3-point range while being held scoreless for the second time in the last four games.
In addition to their poor shooting, the Deacons also turned the ball over 20 times — leading to 32 UNC points — and played little to no defense, especially in transition.
“We came out and didn’t do a lot of things well. Carolina came out, made some shots, rebounded the ball and put us in a tough spot in terms of how they played and how we didn’t play the way we needed to play,” Manning said afterward. “From there it just kind of snowballed.
“A couple of shots didn’t go down for us early. We had some guys pressing, trying to make something happen.”
Thirteen of the 14 players that saw action for UNC scored. That includes Little, who had five points in 11 minutes after missing most of the Virginia game with a leg injury. He didn’t play in the second half as a precautionary measure.
White and Luke Maye finished with 10 points each. But it was Johnson that had the hottest hand, making 10 of his 13 shots en route to his second-highest scoring output of his two year career in Chapel Hill.
The graduate forward made all four of his first half 3-pointers, at which point he realized “this is a little easier than some other days have been,” and finished with seven, one off the single-game school record.
“Offensively we put the ball in the hands of the guy that was making a lot of shots,” Roy Williams said. “Cam made a bunch of them. We caught Wake Forest on a good day for us and a bad day for them.”
And now they can finally start thinking about that game coming up on Wednesday.
Like everyone else.