“Some days you are pigeons and some days you are statues,” said ever-quotable Vermont coach Tom Brennan. “There’s no free lunch. Today the check came and we tipped well.”
UNC’s (9-1) ninth-straight victory since dropping the opener to Santa Clara also marked its sixth 90-plus outing for the nation’s highest scoring team. Carolina is currently enjoying its longest winning streak since rattling off 18 consecutive wins during the 2000-01 season.
While the toughest part of their schedule remains, the Tar Heels exchanged holiday joy with their teammates, coaches and even the media as they exited the locker room – satisfied with their effort so far this season.
“Losing the first game and bouncing back after that, I’d say we have done a nice job,” Williams said.
The Catamounts’ (3-3) attempt to dictate the tempo was merely tantamount to a prolonging of the inevitable. The Tar Heels took just under seven minutes to enact their first double-digit lead of the night at 14-3, on a three by McCants (19 points), which surpassed his Sunday tally at Virginia Tech.
However Vermont, which didn’t make a mark on the scoreboard until the 14:24 mark, would immediately answer with a 14-6 run, buoyed by converting four-straight three-pointers.
Now up just 20-17 with 8:21 left to go in the first half, Williams called a 30-second timeout.
”I jumped them a little bit, and from that point on we did really well,” Williams said. “We didn’t shoot very well, especially in the first half. But the urgency on defense should always be there and I thought that was the key to the game.”
Williams’ words proved beneficial as Carolina would go on to outscore the Catamounts 23-5 and take a 43-22 lead into intermission.
“We got a little bit rattled,” said Sean May, who had a game-high and season-best 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. “We let them get some shots, but we knew we had the game in control.”
The water in Vermont’s 3-point shooting well had dried up. What started as good looks from downtown for Vermont quickly turned into desperation prayers that would go unanswered. There were few if any more open looks from long range, as they would finish shooting just 30.8 percent from the field in the opening period.
“They shook us, and no one has shook us like that in a long time,” said Brennan, who will call it quits after this, his 19th season in Burlington.
Vermont senior forward Taylor Coppenrath, a Wooden Award candidate and the country’s second leading scorer, was held to 13 points – less than half of his 26.8 points per game scoring average for the year.
Jawad Williams (15 points, three rebounds and a block) covered Coppenrath for the most part. Over the last four games, Williams is shooting 70.3 percent and he is the only Tar Heel to register double-digit scoring in all 10 games this year.
“Jawad is a good defender and he wanted the challenge,” Roy Williams said. “He did a good job of fronting [Coppenrath], and when he did move from side to side, he did a good job of keeping him from shooting it.”
What Raymond Felton may have lost in ball security due to his sprained left wrist, he has made up for in improved shooting. Felton has connected on eight of his last nine attempts from 3-point range. Yet, after committing 10 turnovers in his last two games, he also appears to have recovered his handle, as he recorded seven assists against just four turnovers versus Vermont. Felton, whose 513 career assists is currently ranked No. 8 on UNC’s all-time list, has at least seven assists in seven of his last nine games.
“He’s tremendous,” Brennan said of Felton. “What they do so well is that even when you score, they’re right back down there again with him.”
McCants did not start the game because he got stuck in traffic and was late to a team meeting earlier in the afternoon. But during pre-game warm-ups, Roy Williams went over to McCants and told him that the same sanction was once enacted on Michael Jordan while he was at UNC.
“He was very disappointed, there was no doubt about that,” Williams said. “But it was not a big deal. He already missed the time on the court so it’s over and it’s done.”
The Tar Heels return to action next Tuesday against UNC-Wilmington.