Versatile Tar Heels hold off late Wake Forest charge

UNC placed all five starters in double figures, handed out 22 assists on 33 field goals and in the end, answered every challenge the pesky Deacons threw at them on their way to a 93-87 victory at Joel Coliseum.

Jeremy Brevard—USA Today Sports
Jan 11

WINSTON-SALEM — Coach Roy Williams wasn’t happy with his team’s second half defense, its inability to stop fouling and the fact that it nearly squandered a 19-point lead at Wake Forest on Wednesday. There was, however, at least one thing that made the North Carolina basketball coach smile. In spite of all the aforementioned blemishes, his Tar Heels still found a way to win. Williams’ team placed all five starters in double figures, handed out 22 assists on 33 field goals and in the end, answered every challenge the pesky Deacons threw at them on their way to a 93-87 victory at Joel Coliseum. “It’s good to have another game when you win. I don’t give a darn how you do it at the end,” Williams said. “I’d like for us to play a heck of a lot better. Coach (Dean) Smith used to say that if you play well, he could handle the losing. I want to win.” The Tar Heels (15-3, 3-1) did just that, posting their third straight victory since laying an egg at Georgia Tech in their ACC opener on New Year’s Eve. Among the most noteworthy aspects of that mini-streak is that two of the wins came on the road and each followed a distinctly different script. At Clemson UNC had to grind it out in an extremely hostile atmosphere, battling from behind in the second half to pull one out in overtime. Sunday against rival NC State, it showed had dominant it can be on both ends of the court in an historic 51-point rout of the Wolfpack. Against Wake (10-7, 1-4) the Tar Heels first displayed their versatility and offensive firepower in building another commanding lead, then showed their can also handle some late-game pressure and hang on even when things didn’t always go their way. That ability to adapt and win games of different styles is a quality senior forward Isaiah Hicks said will come in handy as January turns to February and February turns to the most important part of the college basketball season. “It shows we can play through everything,” said Hicks, whose 16 points (on 5 of 6 field goals and 6 for 6 free throws) were the most he’s scored since hitting for 22 against Chaminade way back on Nov. 21. “Some games it’s going to be close. Not every game is going to be a blowout.” For awhile, this one looked as though it might. After shooting 53 percent in the first half and drawing Wake big man John Collins’ third foul in the opening minute of the second, UNC appeared to be cruising when Joel Berry scored off a fastbreak to open up a 57-38 lead with 18:05 left. Berry finished with 18 points and seven rebounds to join teammates Hicks, Justin Jackson (19 points), Kennedy Meeks (18 points) and Kenny Williams (12 points) in the double-figure scoring column. Unlike Sunday’s win against State, in which the Wolfpack never back up off the floor after getting knocked down early, the Deacons dusted themselves off and battled back into contention. It was a comeback ignited by an unlikely spark. Freshman point guard Brandon Childress came into the game averaging just 5.5 points and committed two key turnovers in an awful two-minute stint during the first half Wednesday. But he put on a show reminiscent of his father — Wake Hall of Famer and current assistant coach Randolph Childress — in the second half. He got things rolling with a 3-pointer to cap a 12-0 run that cut the UNC lead back to nine. By the time he was done, he’d scored a career-high 16 points that twice got the Deacons back to within a single possession. “When we made our run, the crowd got into it, our bench got into it and I just fed off the crowd,” Childress said. “The rest just took care of itself. When Bryant (Crawford) came out with foul trouble, he was telling me ‘just play.’ Once he told me that, I knew he had trust in me, so I just went out there and played.” Crawford led Wake with 22 points before fouling out. But the Deacons could never get over the hump and catch the Tar Heels thanks in large measure to UNC’s ability to spread its offense around and keep their heads under pressure. “It’s hard to go into other people’s places and get a win,” Berry said. “It’s the ACC and we know that every game is important, whether you’re playing a top team or a bottom team. Every team is going to bring their all, especially against us. Coming in here and doing what we did tonight shows that we can win by a lot and win by a little.”