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How UNC’s seniors denied Miami’s comeback bid

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A quick breakdown of the four daggers that ruined Miami’s comeback attempt.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Alright. We don’t have much time before Virginia Tech comes to town, but yesterday’s win against Miami needs a little more attention.

The senior trio of Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson, and Kenny Williams have taken some heat this year for disappearing at key junctures. Before yesterday, Cam had gone two games without hitting a three, struggling mightily against Louisville. Maye has “struggled’ to match last year’s All-America numbers (though, those concerns are highly overblown). Some fans in the farthest corners of message boards and social media have even openly called for Kenny Williams to come off the bench in place of….Nassir Little, Leaky Black, and/or Brandon Robinson. (I think. I’m not completely sure. I black out when I read such blasphemy).

That’s why yesterday needs so much attention. The three seniors combined for 52 points, 20 rebounds, and 13 assists. In a road environment, they stepped up. In fact, in UNC’s three ACC road games, the seniors have 135 points, 63 rebounds, 30 assists.

North Carolina, as a team, has 260 points, 134 rebounds and 70 assists in those three contests. Some quick math tells me that Kenny, Luke, and Cam have scored 51% of UNC’s points, while grabbing 47% of the rebounds. They also tallied 42% of the assists despite none of them playing the point guard position. (Imagine if Kenny hadn’t struggled to a 2 point, 1 rebound, 1 assist performance in the blowout at Pittsburgh).

However, yesterday was one of the few (first?) times we noticeably saw any of the seniors physically take over for a key stretch. In just 2:39 of game action late in the second half, UNC slammed the door on Miami’s comeback attempt after they had clawed back to within one point. Trailing 63-62, and threatening to deal UNC another ACC loss, the ‘Canes had momentum on their side. Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams promptly responded with four consecutive three-pointers over the next five offensive possessions.

Here they are, broken down in .GIF form.

Cam Dagger #1, 6:32 remaining

The crowd was waiting to burst. The Hurricanes had erased a nine point North Carolina lead, and got to within 63-62. Cam restored order.

In the Three Things Learned, I mentioned that UNC did a better job moving off the ball to get open. This is a prime example.

  • Cam sets a ball screen for Robinson, and pops back out. Robinson drives middle.
  • Using screen-the-screener action, Leaky Black sets a back screen on Cam’s defender.
  • Cam, now wide open because of Leaky’s screen, floats to the corner.
  • Robinson finds Cam for the three. UNC leads 66-62

The impressive part of this play was the timing. There were just 5 seconds left on the shot clock, but there wasn't any panic. Robinson didn’t force a bad drive, Kenny didn’t rush his screen, and Cam stayed in control. All three acted as though there was still 25 seconds remaining.

Note: I originally said that Kenny set the back screen for Cam. That was incorrect.

Cam Dagger #2, 5:54 remaining

The very next possession, Cam does it again. He was completely unafraid to take the big shot in the road environment. Some poor defense by Miami helped.

Cam starts it off by setting a ball-screen for Coby. Miami switches on defense, and Cam ends up with 5’7” Chris Lykes defending him. (This isn’t shown).

  • Cam cuts down the lane and Coby swings it to Brandon Robinson.
  • Robinson’s defender gets greedy and gambles for the steal. Robinson recovers and immediately attacks. The defense begins to collapse.
  • Cam is chilling down on the block, but notices Robinson is coming hard.
  • Cam slides out to the arc, knowing that Lykes is over a foot shorter.
  • Robinson knows who has the hot hand and hits Cam in stride.
  • Cam knocks it down. UNC leads 69-65

Most other players would see a 14-inch height advantage and call for the ball on the block. Cam is so automatic this season that his threes are practically layups, so he used his size on the perimeter. That wasn't just good instincts and basketball IQ from Robinson and Cam — it also took some serious onions to make and take that shot.

Kenny #1, 5:15 remaining

Then Kenny gets in on the action. Check out his effort below.

  • Coby starts on the left wing. He drives baseline as Cam clears out to the opposite side.
  • Kenny initially is just providing dummy motion with Robinson as they switch spots.
  • Kenny recognizes Coby’s drive is rebuffed. He picks up the pace, sees the opening in the defense, and “replaces” Coby on the left wing.
  • Garrison Brooks, not noticing Kenny, begins to step out for the ball reversal, as Coby swings it back to the wing.
  • (I think) Brooks even tries to set a screen either expecting Kenny to drive, or to block his own defender from stepping out to contest the shot.
  • Kenny catches the ball and, in one motion, drills it through the net. UNC leads 72-67

Kenny’s recognition of the situation as soon as Coby started driving allowed this play to develop. He could have floated to the top of the key, allowing the ball to reverse through Brooks. Instead, he picked up the pace when he noticed a gap in the defense. That effort and recognition has been inconsistent from the entire team this season.

Note: Coby also deserves credit for not forcing an ill-advised drive or off-balance shot. Situations like that are examples of his growth and development since the Kentucky debacle.

Kenny #2, 3:53 remaining

After a Coby miss and defensive stop, Kenny effectively puts the game out of reach with this bucket.

With 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock, UNC calls for a stagger screen and curl for Cam. This is a standard play for the Heels.

  • Brooks and Kenny screen the defender trailing Cam.
  • Kenny pops out after setting the screen. Either Kenny will get a clean look or he will pull his defender away from the paint, giving Cam more freedom to maneuver.
  • Kenny’s defender, Chris Lykes stays at the elbow to deny Cam’s shot or drive attempt. Cam’s trailer, Sam Waardenburg, also stays on the ball.
  • Cam recognizes the double team, and passes to Kenny.
  • Kenny doesn’t hesitate, catches the ball in rhythm, and strokes it. UNC leads 75-67.

Miami never got closer than six points after this play. It was another example of moving off the ball, being patient, reading the defense, and shooting within the rhythm of the offense. Many times this season, that situation has turned into a forced shot or silly turnover. That didn’t happen yesterday.

So there you have it. Four plays late in the second half that sealed the win. Kenny and Cam both showed poise and leadership, and the Heels walked away with a 4-1 record in ACC play. Yes, it helps that they made the shots, but the method in which those shots were available is the key.

Bring on Virginia Tech.