North Carolina (6-1) shot out to an 18-8 lead six minutes in against Nevada, eventually taking a 46-39 lead into halftime. But the Wolf Pack’s veteran lineup refused to back down, taking a short-lived lead in the second half before UNC’s final run locked up the victory.
Deon Thompson led all scorers with 23 points and pulled down eight rebounds, while Ed Davis (16 points, 15 rebounds – career-high) and Larry Drew (12 points, 10 assists – career-high) both posted double-doubles. Marcus Ginyard provided his routine stat line, totaling 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Armon Johnson’s 20 points guided Nevada’s efforts, while Luke Babbitt (15), Dario Hunt (12) and Joey Shaw (11) also scored in double figures.
UNC connected on 47.1 percent of its field goal attempts (32-of-68), while holding the Wolf Pack to 41.3 percent (31-of-75) from the floor. The Tar Heels narrowly won the rebounding battle, 45-42.
Sunday’s victory marked Roy Williams’ 600th win as a college head coach. He did it in his 739th game and is the third-fastest to 600 in NCAA history.
INSIDE THE GAME
Responding to Adversity
The Tar Heels scored four quick points out of the second half gates to build what appeared to be a comfortable 50-39 lead. But Nevada refused to fold and slowly whittled that deficit completely away during a 25-12 run over 11 minutes to tie its largest lead of the game at 64-62.
North Carolina has encountered two furious rallies already this season – Ohio State’s 22-9 spurt needed another minute or two to possibly knock off the Tar Heels on Nov. 19, and then Syracuse’s 25-3 second-half run on the following night paved the way for UNC’s first loss.
But during the under-8:00 media timeout, Williams reinserted his starting lineup and challenged his squad in the huddle with 6:55 left on the clock.
“Coach wanted to see what we were made of,” Drew said. “He wanted to see how tough we were and whether we were going to respond to the adversity or not. We went out there and played North Carolina basketball like we know how to play and got the win.”
The Tar Heels not only withstood the Wolf Pack’s rally, they reasserted themselves with an overall confidence that has been lacking through six games this fall, utilizing a 12-3 run to build a 74-67 lead with 3:30 remaining. Nevada could not cut the deficit below five points the rest of the way.
“In that last six minutes, we really competed,” said Thompson, who scored 20 points in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. “That just goes back to practice. Coach really got on us in practice about guys just competing and he put a lot of things into practice where there were a lot of games and things like that… That translated over to the game tonight.”
Without the offensive firepower that this program has been accustomed to in recent years, there will undoubtedly be runs and rallies like Nevada dialed up on Sunday night. As long as the Tar Heels maintain their composure and strike back, those momentum swings will ultimately return to the Carolina blue side of the spectrum more times than not.
Drew Taking the Reins
The most pressing concern for this program heading into the 2009-10 season centered on the point guard position, and Larry Drew had played efficiently through six games, averaging 7.0 points on 48.3 percent shooting and posting a nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (37-to-20).
But against the Wolf Pack, Drew delivered the best performance of his career, scoring 12 points, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out 10 assists against just one turnover.
“Needless to say, if you have that every game, your point guard is doing a pretty good job,” Williams said.
More important than those statistics was the fact that Drew stepped up when his teammates needed him most, trailing 64-62 with less than seven minutes to play. The sophomore point guard found Davis inside for an easy bucket to tie the score, and then proceeded to drain back-to-back 3-pointers to increase UNC’s lead to five points both times.
“I just did all the things necessary to get my team the win,” Drew said. “That’s all I just tried to go out there and do. When I go out there and play, I don’t really think [about] doing things for myself. I try to do things for the team.”
Drew has showed some passivity early this season, but his actions on Sunday in the clutch displayed an aggressiveness that North Carolina sorely needs heading into a gauntlet of treacherous contests over the next three weeks.
Ironing Out the Rotation
Through six games, nine Tar Heels were averaging more than 10 minutes per outing and a tenth (David Wear) was logging 9.8 minutes. Only two players were averaging more than 25 minutes per contest – Ginyard (29.3) and Thompson (25.8).
Following last week’s victory over Gardner-Webb, Williams indicated that the early season spread-the-wealth campaign was likely coming to an end, saying, “I’m not going to play 12 guys just because I like the way they smile.”
The seventh-year UNC head coach practiced what he preached on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Four different Tar Heels eclipsed the 30-minute mark – Ginyard, Thompson, Davis and Drew – while Will Graves and Tyler Zeller joined them as the only other players to see more than 10 minutes of action.
“You’ve got to be able to produce,” Williams said. “I put Justin [Watts] in and I thought he would do a good job and he didn’t, so I didn’t put him back in. But I’m going to go by the seat of my pants. The guy who plays and does the best job that I want at that specific moment is going to play. I think that was important to us tonight and it will be important to us, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on some of those other kids.”