Tar Heels find their lost shooting touch in bounceback victory

UNC got back on track after a historically bad shooting performance against Michigan State on Sunday to beat Michigan 86-71 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

UNC freshman Garrison Brooks lets out a shout after making a basket during Wednesday's win against Michigan (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

CHAPEL HILL — The North Carolina basketball team didn’t have much time to dwell on its historically bad shooting performance against Michigan State in Oregon on Sunday.

About all the Tar Heels were able to do after getting back home early Monday morning was rest up and start getting ready for Wednesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown with another team from the Wolverine State.

And that was just fine with Joel Berry and his teammates.

“Honestly I’m glad we had a game tonight,” Berry said, “Because if we didn’t, practice yesterday would have been pretty hard.”

Coach Roy Williams did force his players sit through a viewing of that dreadful loss to the Spartans, in which UNC shot 24.6 percent from the floor and missed all but one of its 18 3-point attempts. But that only served as motivation for a strong, resurgent effort.

The Tar Heels came out blazing in the first half and opened up as much as a 29-point lead before coasting home to an 86-71 victory against Michigan that clinched the annual series against the Big Ten for their conference.

Luke Maye made 11 of his 16 attempts on the way to 27 points while Berry finished with 17 and Kenny Williams 12 as UNC got back on track by shooting 54.8 percent from the field and making 7 of its 15 3-point attempts.

“For us, that was a good bounce back after such a disappointment the way we played on Sunday,” Roy Williams said after the first meeting between the teams since the Tar Heels’ national championship victory in 1993 — the game made famous by Chris Webber’s phantom timeout in the final seconds.

UNC didn’t need any late-game help this time. Not with the way it came out shooting and rebounding.

“Joel and Theo (Pinson), Kenny and Luke, I think those guys were really ready to play,” Roy Williams said. “Needless to say that was good for us.”

The Tar Heels (6-1) wasted little time getting back into their usual offensive rhythm. With Berry and Kenny Williams hitting four early 3-pointers and Maye taking care of business inside, they scored on nine of their first 11 possessions while going 20 of 31 from the floor in the first half.

It took UNC just 16½ minutes to amass the 45 points it took it the entire game to score against Michigan State. But for awhile, it appeared as if it would need every one of them just to keep pace with the visiting Wolverines.

Michigan (6-2) made its first eight shots, including four 3-pointers of its own to match the Tar Heels’ hot start. It wasn’t until an 11-0 run late in the half that UNC finally cooled its opponent down and began opening some separation.

“It’s always good when the ball is going through the basket,” Berry said. “But the biggest thing is that we just wanted to play with more effort, more energy.”

Much of that energy came from the fact that the Tar Heels were playing at home for the first time in 11 days after spending more than a week on the West Coast playing games at Stanford and in Portland as part of the PK80 tournament.

“I think everybody was excited to be back home,” Kenny Williams said. “We were out there for so long, to be back here was a great feeling. I actually got goosebumps running out of the tunnel again. That tells how long I’ve been away.”

UNC kept the pressure on with a 14-2 run to begin the second half, opening up a 65-39 lead with 14:42 to go before either boredom or jet lag set in and the teams began playing out the string.

Although neither Roy Williams nor his players were happy about their lackluster finish, the result and the 26 minutes that preceded it left them with a much better feeling than they did the last time they left the court.

“It was a little sloppy in the end (but it was) a great team win for us,” said Maye, who has now scored 20 or more points in five of UNC’s seven games this season and 25 of more in three of those wins.

“We really wanted to bounce back and do it for ourselves, for each other. We shot terrible (Sunday) and I think tonight we started off hot. I wish we would have made some of those against Michigan State, but basketball is a game of runs and luckily we made some shots tonight.”