The Tar Heels entered Sunday night’s 78-64 victory over Virginia Tech at the Smith Center having made 38.5 percent of their threes but had been wildly inconsistent, so there was some merit to the criticism.
But being an inside-based team - at times to its detriment - has been Carolina’s M.O. and it isn’t going to change. Yet, made threes can turn a solid determined interior team into a lethal, more balanced one. And on this night, those buckets were the difference in the home team building a comfortable separation from the Hokies in coasting to the win.
“Those were big for us because they couldn’t have come at a better time,” Marcus Ginyard said. “We need those more than we have, but tonight they were daggers.”
Dating back to that debacle in the Low Country, UNC went 77 minutes making just one 3-pointer and found itself owning a 57-52 lead 32 minutes into this affair, but opportunity came Carolina’s way and it came through. Graves sank a three from the left wing for a 60-52 advantage igniting a seven-possession stretch in which Carolina drained four threes in extending the lead to 69-55 with 4:06 remaining.
The 3-point barrage ended with five in 10 possessions after Larry Drew’s blood-dripping incision from the top of the key as the shot clock expired gave the Heels a 74-59 advantage with 2:15 left.
“It’s definitely big, especially in crunch time,” Drew said of converting from beyond the arc. “Like, (tonight) I hit, Will hit; we really need to be able to hit the outside (shots) because it opens up the middle for Deon (Thompson) and Ed (Davis).”
The thing is, Carolina still overcame an abundance of turnovers and a plethora of Tech offensive rebounds and built a lead using its capable inside game. Davis, in particular, was a force with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
But the difference in fighting until the last seconds ticked off and pulling away were those perimeter baskets. They didn’t arrive in the loss to Charleston nor did they help as leads faded in several earlier wins. But the long ball was a weapon for UNC on Sunday, and if the Heels are going to be a national factor, they must hit enough outside shots to keep defenses honest.
“I’ve always said we’ve got to have some – you have to have a good mix,” Roy Williams said. “I still want Sean May and Tyler Hansbrough and Ed Davis to handle the inside, but I’ve always said you got to have a real good mix. And our best teams at Kansas and at North Carolina have had that mix.”
There are no Wayne Ellingtons or Danny Greens on this team, but Will Graves (3-for-7 on Sunday) is skilled enough to drop in a couple each night if he plays enough, and Drew (47.1 percent) and Marcus Ginyard (44.1) have been fine thus far.
Certainly, recent injuries to Graves and Ginyard have affected the consistency of made threes, so maybe Sunday’s eruption could lead to more quality efforts. If so, it will make life significantly easier for the big guys down low. And when that is your offensive focus, this is an absolute positive.
“Having Will out there and Larry stepping up tonight and making some threes just opens up a whole new game for us,” Thompson said. “We look like a totally different team when we’re knocking down threes, and it’s a good way to keep the lead going.”
And it’s a good way to keep winning, as well.