North Carolina’s game against Wake Forest to open ACC play felt a lot like their game against the Demon Deacons last season. Just like last time, the Heels toughed up late and were able to squeak out a victory after a nail-biting final few minutes.
Carolina went on an 8-0 run over final two minutes of play to comeback from a late deficit against the Deacs. Although the Heels led for a good chunk of the game, they could never extend that lead into double digits. As a result, Wake Forest came storming back with three-pointers late in the game that put the Demon Deacons briefly on top.
Roy Williams went to his so-called Death Lineup to close out the game with Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams, Cameron Johnson, and Luke Maye. They were able to defend on the other end and get a late floater by Berry to go on top for good at 71-69. A couple late free throws by Kenny Williams sealed the deal and gave UNC their first ACC win.
Maye turned in another impressive performance, this time against ACC competition. He scored 17 points to lead the team and collected 15 rebounds over 32 minutes of action. Berry was right behind him with 16 points, including the crucial two that gave Carolina the lead with just 13 seconds to go. The Heels got a lot of production from Johnson off the bench with 11 points (including three three-pointers) and five rebounds in 28 minutes.
The Heels were fortunate in the first half that Wake Forest only shot 30% from the field. Both teams finished at 40% for the game with Wake Forest hitting 50% of their shots in the second half and having the edge from behind the arc with 11. It was a fortunate escape for Carolina after allowing Wake to do almost anything they wanted after halftime.
Roy Williams had some harsh words for his team after the game, obviously not pleased with his defense. The coach pointed out particularly that at one point in the second half Wake Forest had been shooting nearly 60%. He also pointed out that Berry and Maye turned the ball over too much despite their otherwise good offensive numbers.
It’s obvious to anyone that this team will have to play better than they did today going forward, but they also showed a lot of toughness in being able to fight back late and come away with the victory. Early season conference games can always be a bit tricky, particularly after a break, but games like this are a learning experience for the young players. Thankfully, they can learn from it while also taking home the win.
Carolina hits the road to take on a tough Florida State team in Tallahassee on Wednesday for their next challenge.