Coby White set a new career high in scoring against the Syracuse Orange, and in doing so became the first UNC freshman ever to put up three 30-point games. He broke through the slump he’d been going through for the two games since Miami in about the biggest way possible, going 6/11 from three after hitting just 1 of his previous 14. And yet, in the best possible way, the scoring didn’t really feel like the biggest part of White’s game as he led UNC to another ACC win, the team’s 11th win in its past 12 games. No, the biggest part of White’s game was when, with about 8 minutes left, he was switched onto a red-hot Tyus Battle on defense. Battle, who had scored 17 points in the first 12 minutes of the half, scored just 6 in the last 8, three of those coming in the final seconds when the only people who cared were people with money on the game (UNC were 11-point favorites. Battle’s final three brought the margin down from 11 to 8. Take that, Vegas!).
Don’t get me wrong, the scoring was great. White still looked out of sorts in the first half, struggling a little to navigate the zone despite a solid scoring line of 15 points in the first half. A lot of that production came from the line, as he was 7/7 from the charity stripe in the first half as he was able to resort to attacking the basket when he didn’t really have a plan. He was 3/6 from the field and 2/5 from three-point range, which is a good line (if a bit low-volume for White’s standards), but the real evidence that he didn’t look comfortable comes in the fact that he had just one assist in the half, adding two turnovers. For White, who had been showing really good ability as a distributor in ACC play, that was worrying, particularly when every other Heel seemed to be getting the ball exactly where they wanted to. At halftime, UNC had 9 assists on 10 made field goals.
White came out of the locker room with his hair on fire. He scored nine quick points on two long balls and an and-1 in the paint, and from then on just could not be stopped. In the second half, White was 4/6 from long range, 5/8 overall, and continued his excellence at the line, finishing the game 10/10. He handed out 2 more assists and had several assists leading to free throws for his teammates, looked much sharper handling at the top of the zone and passing around it, and tossed in two steals on the defensive end in addition to locking down Battle for the last fifth of the game. The offense flowed better and UNC had 15 field goals in the second half as opposed to 10 in the first, and that’s with nearly equal foul counts in each half for the Orange. They didn’t maintain the 90% assist rate from the first half, but finished with a more-than-respectable 19 assists on those 25 makes for 76% (their rate for the season before this game was 61.3%).
And by the end of it all, White had 34 points on just 14 shots (His 33 against Texas and Miami came on 17 and 16 shots, respectively). He undeniably took over the game on the offensive end, but it was arguably the quietest edition of “Coby takes over” so far this season. It was partly because several of his teammates stepped up in a way they hadn’t in his previous best performances, partly because there were times he noticeably struggled, and maybe partly because the game itself, as tightly as it was being called, didn’t have a ton of rhythm for stretches and took the focus off the court. But Coby White, like several great UNC point guards before him, took to the keys of a rhythmless game and played it to his advantage, settling his team down and keeping them ahead for nearly the entire second half.
This wasn’t a game that felt like White could’ve won it himself in the same way the Miami game was, and that’s due to some key contributions from his teammates. Cam Johnson scored a relatively quiet 16 and chipped in 7 rebounds, shooting a somehow extremely disappointing 2/6 from behind the arc. Kenny Williams still hasn’t found a way to be the scorer he showed the ability to be last year, but put together a nice floor game for a line of 8/6/5, and Luke Maye had a shooting night to forget but hit a career high in assists with 6 in addition to 12 rebounds. He missed out on a third straight double-double by just one point. Nassir Little was another beneficiary of a tightly-called game near the basket, as he attacked relentlessly and was rewarded with 8 free throw attempts. He converted 7 en route to an 11-point, 6-rebound game in 21 minutes. But once the dust cleared, it was without doubt that the game belonged to Coby White. Here’s hoping this game ends his mini-slump for good.