In the midst of a 33-3 first-half run, Kenny Williams received a pass at the top of the key, stepped back and fired a three from beyond the arc. Nothing but net.
Williams and fellow junior Luke Maye have now turned early-season success into sustained performances for the 9-1 North Carolina men’s basketball team, and they've shown they will be two of the team’s top scorers. In the opening half of a 104-61 win over Western Carolina on Wednesday night, each player had their ninth double-digit scoring game — and the whole team was the better for it.
“When they get going in the beginning of the game, it’s great for us,” said Joel Berry II, who has scored 10 or more in seven of UNC's ten games. “It gives us a spark and it gets the team going.”
Williams in particular has his best performances as soon as the game begins. In the Stanford game on Nov. 20, he scored 20 points in the first nine minutes of the game. Against Tulane last week, he scored all 13 of his point in the first half. He settled on the same score against the Catamounts, albeit in just 13 first-half minutes.
“I’m just out there playing basketball,” Williams said. “So if the shot’s there I’m going to take it.”
It’s as simple as that. Headed into halftime, Williams hadn’t missed a shot. He was 3-3 from downtown and 5-5 from the field. Maye also had a strong performance for what would become his sixth double-double of the year and third in a row, totaling 12 points and seven rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
The two juniors set the pace, but, in the second half, they took just four more shots combined and didn't score again. They didn’t have to.
Their early performance, which at one point contributed to No. 11 UNC's first 20-0 run since it happened twice against N.C. State last season, opened the door for their teammates to make their own mark on the game. Their older teammates could focus on playing without the burden of shouldering the scoring load, while the less experienced had a chance to play extra minutes.
Theo Pinson led UNC with seven assists, his seventh time leading North Carolina in the category this year and 28th time in his career. He now has a team-high 44 on the year.
With two second-half 3-pointers, Berry passed Dante Calabria (193) for the eighth most threes made in program history. He now has 194, is now just four shots away from passing current assistant coach Hubert Davis (197) and has the chance to continue to rise.
“I’m just doing whatever I can for this team and whatever happens stats wise, I’ll be honored for that,” Berry said. “I am honored to be able to be in the rankings like that because there are some great players who made a lot of threes.”
His two three-pointers contributed to a 72.7 shooting percentage from outside, a program best when attempting at least 20, and a record-tying 16 three pointers made under head coach Roy Williams' tenure. Those threes were shared across the board from a performance that every one of the healthy players contributed to.
By the end of the game, all 13 healthy players logged minutes. Twelve of them scored, and sixt of them made at least one 3-pointer in a complete team win.
“We all want each other to succeed,” first-year guard Andrew Platek said. “We had a fantastic shooting night tonight, and that was a product of our unselfishness.”
Under the leadership of Williams and Maye, the team spread out the minutes and the scoring to ensure a satisfying way to enter their 11-day break for exams.