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The Daily Tar Heel

Kenny Williams' first career 3-pointer helps seal ACC Tournament quarterfinal win for UNC men's basketball

The first-year guard came into Thursday's game with no made 3-pointers this season.

North Carolina's Kenny Williams (24) hits a three-pointer during the second half of the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament on Thursday, March 10, 2016, at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story and headline incorrectly stated the nature of Kenny Williams' 3-pointer during North Carolina's game against Pittsburgh. This was Williams' first made 3-pointer. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kenny Williams made a 3-pointer, and it counted.

And yes, it was in a game. And yes, you can try to write it off, but it mattered.

Williams hadn’t made a shot from behind the arc all year for the North Carolina men’s basketball team. Zero. He was 0-for-12 coming into UNC’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal matchup against eighth-seeded Pittsburgh. There was no reason why today, with his team looking to advance, that would likely change.

But it did.

UNC eventually won 88-71, but that result wasn’t clear until late. The Panthers scored the first eight points of the game, and the Tar Heels only led by four at the half.

The 3 is coming up, don’t worry.

UNC never trailed in the second half, but Pittsburgh still managed to keep the score tight. With 10 and a half minutes left to play, it was a two-point game.

“Some games we’ve had a problem allowing teams to keep it close,” junior guard Nate Britt said.

But Thursday?

“It was good that we were able to open that game up.”

In came Williams. To play defense mostly, his teammates said after the game. Or to give people a rest, Coach Roy Williams said. Not to shoot 3-pointers. Certainly not to make one.

So Justin Jackson hit two free throws, and then Brice Johnson made one, too. Joel Berry sank a shot from deep, accounting for three of his game-high 20 points. Williams was on the court, yes, but he was more focused on not letting the ball go through the hoop than doing it himself.

But then with 8:35 to play, Johnson got a rebound and passed the ball to Britt. Britt ran down the court, headed straight for the basket, drawing defenders all the way.

Nobody noticed Williams creeping out to the wing. Everyone had followed Britt — they too had forgotten about his teammate. So Britt passed.

“The defender left him, and I was like, ‘I know he can hit it,’" Britt said. "So I kicked it to him and I said, ‘Gimme one Kenny.’”

Rise up. Release. What’s going through your head, Kenny?

“Please go in.”

He drained it. His first career 3-pointer, put his team up double digits. The game, from that point on, was over.

“It’s a big deal,” Williams said. “That just made it that much better, to be in a big moment in the game.”

His teammates, the crowd in the stands of the Verizon Center, the band and the cheerleaders — they all lost it. Hollering, hands in the air, for the shot and the victory it helped deliver.

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“That was the first time I’ve seen him shoot with that much confidence,” Berry said.”When he rose up, I knew it was good.”

The celebration was underway, for the shot and the team. Britt wrapped his arms around Williams’ head as they walked off the court. Kennedy Meeks followed, the rest of the team in a line behind him.

What did you say to him, Kennedy? He grinned, and then he answered.

“Just like, ‘Finally man. I’m proud of you.’”