North Carolina (20-1, 5-1 ACC) jumped out to an early 9-1 lead before the Eagles (12-7, 3-3) took advantage of numerous open looks on the perimeter – connecting on 5-of-9 3-pointers – to eventually move ahead, 26-25. By that time, however, Williams had replaced Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Alex Stepheson, Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green with an entirely new lineup – Wayne Ellington, Deon Thompson, Quentin Thomas, William Graves and Michael Copeland.
“I don’t know, but I was ready to choke someone,” said Williams, when asked if the mass substitution refocused his team defensively. “I don’t care who you are or how good you played or whatever. Your butt is going to come out if you don’t hustle at that time.”
While Williams may not have known if the move got his team’s attention, there was little doubt on the bench about what needed to occur when the fifth-year UNC head coach blistered his troops on the sideline.
“He told us basically just to play better defense,” said sophomore Alex Stepheson, who grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds. “[Nobody] is shooting good shots, and they’re getting too good looks and we’re not sprinting back… Everybody got the message.”
Boston College had made nine of its first 19 field goal attempts, but things changed after that pivotal point at the 9:46 mark – the Tar Heels played with more intensity and attacked the passing lanes, capitalizing on 12 steals to force 17 turnovers. Al Skinner’s squad missed seven of their final nine shots in the first half, while UNC hit seven of their final 10 field goal attempts to open up a 47-31 lead at the break.
“It was the most active defensively that we had been all year,” Williams said, referring to the final eight minutes. “We got some turnovers and some deflections, [and] all of a sudden we were running out in the break.”
That effort remained consistent until the final horn, as Boston College shot just 42.4 percent on the night. Lawson, Ginyard and Ellington combined to harass Tyrese Rice into a poor shooting night, althought the ACC’s second-leading scorer still managed 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting (1-of-9 from 3-point range). Freshman Rakim Sanders added 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting, but the Eagles’ supporting cast failed to contribute enough to change the final outcome.
The Tar Heels used a 21-0 spurt overlapping halftime to break open a 57-31 margin, and Al Skinner’s young Eagles squad lacked the firepower to respond as Boston College never got within 20 points the rest of the way.
“[That run] gave us some motivation and gave us some confidence – things were flowing,” said Hansbrough, who scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds. “On the flip side, being the other team, it gives you that sense of urgency and makes you hurry up and do different things that you don’t want to do.”
Lawson led the charge offensively for the Tar Heels, tallying 16 points and 10 assists with no turnovers in helping each member of the UNC starting five to double figures in scoring. North Carolina shot 60 percent (18-of-30) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, before closing with a 51.5 field goal percentage after opening up a 30-point lead in the second half.
Thompson (career-high 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals) and Hansbrough were able to relegate the ACC’s top shot blocker to the bench with foul trouble, as Tyrelle Blair garnered only two blocks in 12 minutes of action. Fellow starting post presence John Oates fouled out with 10:20 remaining in the game.
The Tar Heels travel to Tallahassee on Sunday to face Florida State, with hopes that the defensive intensity displayed on Thursday night will reappear – this time without the drastic measures of their head coach.