For 30 minutes Sunday night, No. 11 North Carolina (6-1) exhibited symptoms of a turkey hangover in its 80-73 victory against Nevada (2-3), fitting of the game’s post-Thanksgiving timing.
But trailing the Wolfpack by two with 6:55 left in the second half, a fully awake Tar Heel squad found itself in danger of an upset as it huddled during a timeout.
As UNC players leaned in to listen to coach Roy Williams, they received a challenge rather than strategy for how to close out the game.
“Coach just wanted to see what we were made of,” Larry Drew II said. “He just wanted to see how tough we were, whether we were going to respond to the adversity or not.”
Drew and the rest of the Tar Heels took that challenge personally.
On the inbounds play following that timeout, Drew lobbed a pass into the post for Ed Davis that resulted in a quick layup to tie the score.
And on Nevada’s next trip upcourt, Will Graves stole the ball from point guard Armon Johnson to spark a one-man fast break which pushed UNC into the lead.
Then it was Drew’s turn. The sophomore point guard drained three-pointers on consecutive possessions to bring the Smith Center crowd to its feet and quash any dreams Nevada had of upsetting the Tar Heels.
“I was really impressed with my team for the last 10 minutes of the game more than I have been at any time this year,” Williams said. “I think we got more competitive during that time, made some shots, made some defensive stops. If you play like that you’ve got a chance.”
Deon Thompson led all scorers with 23 points, a career-high for the senior forward. Ed Davis registered yet another double-double, scoring 16 points to go with 15 rebounds.
But the star of the night was Drew. He dished out a career-high 10 assists in addition to his clutch three-point shooting.
“That’s the type of point guard he is, and that’s why coach has a lot of faith in him and his abilities,” Thompson said. “That’s the type of point guard we need for our team to be successful.”
The win was a milestone one for Williams. It was No. 600 for him as a coach, but it certainly wasn’t the prettiest.
UNC shot just 50 percent from the free-throw line, and the Tar Heels missed plenty of short baskets in the second half that could have helped them put the game away earlier.
But the sloppy second half — and a resulting ‘W’ in the win column — was plenty good enough for Drew.
“I wouldn’t call it an ugly win,” Drew said. “Some games we’re going to have to grind it out and win in the last four or five minutes of the game. It was definitely a test to see how much heart the team has and tonight we definitely showed we have it.”
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