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UNC vs. Duke: Player of the Game - Kenny Williams

One senior in particular shone brightly on Senior Night.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

This is what a Senior Night is for. On Saturday night, three great Tar Heels said their farewells to Chapel Hill on the heels of a Top 5, regular season championship-clinching win over Duke. Two of those seniors, Luke Maye and Cam Johnson, have enjoyed a tremendous amount of accolades over the last two seasons. Luke’s shot against Kentucky will live in Carolina lore forever. Cam has enjoyed one of the greatest shooting seasons in Tar Heel history this year and may well end up being an All-American himself when all is said and done. We’ve heard a lot about those two, and deservedly so.

But last night was Kenny Williams’ night. And no one deserves it more. Kenny Williams has had as unusual a road as any Tar Heel in his four years. He was initially committed to VCU, then switched his commitment to UNC when Shaka Smart departed. He was a little-used freshman when the Tar Heels made the NCAA Championship Game and fell at the buzzer to Villanova. He was in street clothes with an injury when the Heels redeemed that loss one year later. His junior year was a breakout both as a shooter and defender, but much of his senior year has been defined by frustration with his struggles from the perimeter.

But, throughout the last two years in particular, if you were to stop a random Tar Heel fan and ask them who the hardest working player on the floor is, I bet you many would say Kenny Williams. No one defends harder. No one lays their body on the line more often. No one does the dirty work more and with less drama than Kenny. On Senior Night last year, Theo Pinson referred to him as ‘Crackhead Kenny’ because “He’s always all over the place.” Surely we can can give him a better nickname? ‘Energizer Kenny’?...we’ll work on it.

But last night was a smorgasbord of everything that makes Kenny Williams so valuable and so worthy.

Let’s start with his defense: I write this while basking in the rays of victory, so I may be prisoner of the moment, but for my money, the job that Kenny did Saturday night was as good a defensive performance as I have ever seen a Tar Heel give against Duke. Kenny’s assignment all night was RJ Barrett, the all-world superstar and surefire Top 3 pick and 1st team All-American.

And Kenny DOGGED him. Coming in, we all knew that if Duke were to win, Barrett would surely be the one to lead them to victory. He went 10-27 from the field. He finished with four fouls, three of them offensive. Those fouls were drawn by Kenny. Throughout his career, Kenny has been a charge-drawing demon, prone to wreaking havoc on offensive opponents with his footwork and alertness. But he’s never done it as well as last night. He tortured Barrett and the Blue Devils. In one game (one in which he played 39 minutes) he repaid Duke for four years of Shane Battier. In the last minute of the game, with UNC up merely five points and a historic collapse well within the realm of possibility, Kenny came up with the big block on Barrett that sealed the win.

Now for his offense: We all know Kenny’s shooting hasn’t been good this year. We also all know that he’s a better shooter than his stats this year would suggest. Was anyone surprised that he rediscovered his stroke against the Blue Devils? His 4-7 shooting from three was his best perimeter output since...he went 6-12 against the Blue Devils LAST year. Kenny hits threes in the Dome against the Dookies. It’s what he does. His final line, 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 HUGE block, were as good of a line as he has put out all season. He played his best when his team needed him the most. In short; he played like a senior.

UNC wrapped up a share of the ACC Regular Season title last night and now find themselves in the driver’s seat for a #1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. But despite that, this team somehow still hasn’t hit their ceiling: Their big win over Gonzaga came despite a very soft defensive performance, their win in Cameron came with a 2-20 shooting night from 3, and last night’s win came despite mediocre (by their standards) nights from Luke Maye and Cam Johnson. If they click all at once, the Heels will be as feared as any team in America. And if this was the night that Kenny put it all out.