CHAPEL HILL — The game started as if it would be just the kind of therapy the North Carolina basketball team needed to wash the bad taste of Wednesday’s loss at Indiana from its collective palate. Kenny Williams hit his first five 3-pointers, everyone on the court swarmed on defense and the Tar Heels jumped out to a huge early lead against Radford on Sunday. Then Joel Berry fell to the floor and didn’t get up. Suddenly, the biggest concern among those at the Smith Center shifted from the possibility of getting free biscuits for a 100-point game to how long UNC’s best player, defender and leader might be sidelined. Berry was diagnosed with a sprained left ankle. Although coach Roy Williams expressed optimism about the junior guard’s condition following his team’s 95-50 demolition of the overmatched Highlanders, the true extent of his injury won’t be known until x-rays can be taken Monday morning. The results of those pictures will go a long way toward determining the direction of the Tar Heels’ immediate future with games against Davidson and Tennessee coming up next week and a showdown with Kentucky in Las Vegas looming on Dec. 17. “We hope that Joel will be able to practice between now and (the next game on) Wednesday, Williams said. “We’ll have to wait and see what they have to say. But I’m encouraged about it right now.” The mood was anything but optimistic when Berry went down at the 17:36 mark of the second half after appearing to step on another player’s foot underneath the UNC basket. He remained on the floor for several moments amidst a hushed crowd, then went directly to the locker room with trainer Doug Halverson. It was a disconcerting sight for his teammates, who can ill afford to lose a player of such importance for an extended period of time, Berry came into the game as the team leader in assists (38) and steals (13) while second in scoring at 16.0 per game. He finished with five points, four assists and a steal in just 13 minutes of action before his injury. “It’s tough,” forward Isaiah Hicks said. “You don’t want to see your teammate get hurt like that, especially Joel being a big leader for us. But as coach says, we’ve got to worry about him when we’re not playing. But as we’re playing, we have to try to win. Joel is tough. He’s going to be alright, so we won’t have to baby him a lot.” Although senior Nate Britt will likely take over the role as UNC’s primary ballhandler if Berry is forced to miss any time, Williams used the opportunity of Sunday’s lopsided score to give freshman Seventh Woods extended playing time at the point guard position. The youngster, whose 22 minutes were by far a season high, finished with nine points on 3 of 6 shooting. But he also committed five of UNC’s 13 turnovers while handing out only a single assist in a performance that was, if nothing else, an experience from which he can learn. “I knew he wasn’t coming back out, so I knew I had to step up for my team and be the point guard they needed,” Woods said. “I had a couple of turnovers early, but other than that I think I responded pretty well. … I feel pretty comfortable. I just need to tighten up my handle, limit the turnovers and I’ll be fine.” Woods’ teammate Williams knows all about the difficulties of adjusting to the college game. He went through a similar process a year ago during a freshman season that saw him make only one of one of his 13 3-point attempts. Williams has been a different player this season and on Sunday, he gave the first real glimpse of the shooter he was hyped to be when he first signed with the Tar Heels. “I’ve been waiting a year-and-a-half for a game like that,” Williams said after scoring a career-high 19 points on 5 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc. “I don’t want to say I knew it was coming, but with the confidence I have I kind of expected it.” Williams came out firing, hitting four 3-pointers on the game’s first eight possessions — all from different areas of the arc — to help UNC get off and running with a 20-4 lead. “I’m really happy for Kenny,” his coach of the same last name said. “He’s worked extremely hard. … It’s fun to watch it go in the basket for him and have those kind of feelings.” Even though those feelings were eventually dampened by Berry’s injury.
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The North Carolina basketball team will begin defense of its 2016 national championship on Friday, Not. 10 with a home game against Northern Iowa. It’s one of seven home games for the Tar Heels on […]