On Saturday, the NCAA reminded everyone that the tournament is a little over a month away. At the same time, Carolina was in a March-like game against an opponent that had no business being in the game with them. Carolina managed to avenge the buzzer-beater from last year and came away with a season sweep of the Miami Hurricanes. So what did we learn from this game?
Coby White has ice in his veins
The freshman was not intimidated by the moment and took over at the end of the second half. Look at the second half play-by-play, especially around the 5:03 mark. Carolina makes six baskets from that point to the end of regulation, and four of them were Coby White three-point shots. This included a huge shot with 41 seconds left that I’ll talk about later. In a game where Miami seemed to not be able to miss, especially with guys in their face, the fact that White was able to step up and hit big shot after big shot as the clock wound down is huge.
Here’s how big of an impact White made by the end of the game: on the game-tying three, the Hurricanes decided to double the red-hot point guard, leaving the senior Luke Maye wide open for the three. That the opposing team felt their better defensive option was to double the freshman and leave the pre-season first-team All-American wide open speaks volumes for how White was shooting. He ended the day with 33 points, his second 30 point effort of the season.
More important that the point total is the actual shooting numbers. On a day where Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams were having trouble getting their shot going, White stepped up to hit seven of ten behind the arc. You read that right, seven of ten. Coby was 11-16 overall, which is a lot more efficient than Miami’s Chris Lykes, who scored his 27 on 10-23 shooting and 5-11 from three. White is starting to enter conversations of “best freshman point guard Roy Williams has had at UNC”, and that’s putting him past some pretty big names. Fans need to enjoy this from Coby, because if this keeps up his name is going to come up a lot more in NBA talk.
The Luke Maye we expected has returned
As wonderful as Coby’s performance was, lost in the shuffle is how Luke Maye managed to pull off a 20-point, six-rebound game to follow up his 31/12 performance on Tuesday. Maye also used that confidence to hit the wide-open three to tie the game off the great feed from White. He followed that up in overtime to hit a fifteen-footer with 42 seconds left to make it a two-possession game and force Miami to play hurry-up, something they weren’t comfortable with doing all game.
This makes the third straight 20+ point game for the senior, and while there’s been a big focus on what’s been “wrong” with Luke, he’s just been chugging along, almost waiting for the moment to show up. He’s become the important piece of the puzzle people expected, and it was good to see him remind everyone that yes, he’s the same Maye who did this two years ago:
No, this video will never get old. If this version of Maye sticks around, this is going to be a dangerous team with all the other talent on offense they have.
It was ugly, but you need to win games like this
This game had “trap” written all over it in big, flashing red letters. It was a noon start, they just had a great performance against N.C. State, they’ve got a big game coming against Virginia on Monday, and they had just beaten this team on the road a couple of weeks ago. Miami may be last in the conference and 10-13 overall, but they’ve led in most of their games in the second half. They also have had no fear when playing UNC.
So the writing was on the wall that this was not going to be an easy game. There are plenty of Tar Heel teams that have stepped on the rakes and given games like this one away. Sure enough, the Hurricanes seemingly couldn’t miss from deep, managed to control the tempo to negate Carolina’s depth advantage, and were one of the teams that managed to out-rebound Carolina, which usually spells doom for this team. It didn’t help that besides White and Maye, the rest of Carolina’s shooters didn’t get their regular points, and the few inside shots they attempted were almost hilariously off.
Carolina managed to get a seven-point lead three times, and each of those times Miami managed to claw back. The last time saw them get a seven-point lead of their own with 7:35 left. Even when Carolina started to chip away, Miami still hit shots to keep the game at two possessions. Carolina would try to double Lykes, but the guard was smart in recognizing the move and would find the open man for points. It just seemed like this was one Carolina was going to let get away.
Instead, Carolina would pull out the comeback. It started with 48 second left, Miami hit a three to put them up by four, and hope really seemed to drain out of the Smith Center. Then Coby White hits a shot just seven seconds later, meaning Carolina could get the two-for-one. That the freshman had that recognition to shoot so quickly and create that situation is a big reason the rest of the game went the way that it did. Coach Roy Williams called a timeout, and Carolina managed to give up only a two instead of a three with plenty of time left. Williams calls another TO to set up the final play, which you already know perfectly set up Maye for the open three. They then managed to cover Lykes well enough to where his winning attempt bounced off the rim.
The good end game strategy didn’t stop in the second half. After a sluggish start, Carolina managed to get a two possession lead which forced Miami to put up some prayers which were answered. The problem was that the last one was answered at under 30 seconds, and the Hurricanes failed to recognize that the shot clock was off. It allowed Carolina to get the ball upcourt and get the it into the hands of one of the best free-throw shooters, Cam Johnson. He survived Miami’s icing attempt, and Williams called another timeout to set up the defense.
A lot has been made of “fouling when up three” in recent days, but Carolina demonstrated how you do it when you not only have a foul to give, but you don’t mind sending someone to the line. None other than Ken Pomeroy points out what a lot of teams don’t do:
UNC played that end game the way you should when you have fouls to give. Don’t just give fouls, but aggressively go for steals. Eventually they got one.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) February 9, 2019
Coby White went for an aggressive steal with about nine seconds left, almost succeeding. They forced an inbounds pass that was almost a turnover thanks to good defense by Kenny Williams, and then a second inbounds that was defended aggressively enough to where White was able to produce a steal, ending the game. It was not only a clinic on how to close out a game, but why Williams hoards his timeouts for these situations.
The path to the 2017 national title was paved with the comeback against Arkansas, and Maye’s shot against Kentucky when they completed a massive comeback in the final seconds. You win those games by winning these games. It may not be pretty, but it still leads UNC to the best start in the ACC under Williams, and the lessons learned now will come in handy sooner than later.