When North Carolina head coach Roy Williams met Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning in front of the scorer’s table after the final buzzer sounded on Saturday, Williams spoke the first words that came to his mind.
“I told Danny, and I really believe it, that we were the lucky team,” Williams said after the Tar Heels’ 73-69 win. “We weren’t necessarily the best team, and we darn sure weren’t the best coached team out there today.”
The No. 13 Tar Heels (12-2, 1-0 ACC) may have won on the scoreboard — thanks to senior guard Joel Berry II’s skyscraping floater to put UNC up for good with 9.7 seconds left in the game — but they were outscored 15-5 on fastbreak points and committed five more turnovers than their in-state competitor. North Carolina shot just 39.7 percent from the field and allowed a nine-point lead to evaporate over a three-minute stretch in the second half.
Williams wasn’t going to allow the victory in his team's conference opener to overshadow the teachable moment in front of him. He stepped toward the UNC locker room, trying to craft constructive criticisms for his team that — in several ways — fell short of the expectations he had.
"[There was] not a great, positive message to them in the locker room because by-golly we gotta play smarter and we gotta play harder," he said.
In his post-game address to the team, Williams challenged North Carolina’s leaders. He asked Berry and junior guard Kenny Williams what they expected when the guards gave the Demon Deacons’ shooters “six to eight feet” of space on the arc. He explained to junior forward Luke Maye that he didn’t think he “played worth a darn,” despite Maye’s statline of 17 points and 15 rebounds.
“I didn’t see one [lineup] I liked,” he said. “I’m still looking."
Theo Pinson agreed with his coach's sentiment.
“We were just letting people get too many layups,” said Pinson, who recorded eight points, seven rebounds and six assists on the afternoon. “The guards were just turning the corner and getting all the way to the basket. We gave people we saw on the scouting report open threes, and they made us pay. Little stuff like that.”
The senior guard played a hand in pretty much every positive Tar Heel play down the stretch — whether that meant corralling three of North Carolina’s last four rebounds, drawing a Wake Forest defender and dishing to Maye for an easy layup or knocking down two free throws to tie the game at 69 with 51 seconds remaining.
“We got eight new guys,” he said. “We got seven of them who have never played an ACC basketball game and don’t understand that every night, it’s going to be a grind.”
Pinson was one of only seven scorers for North Carolina — including first-year Sterling Manley, who only scored two points. He said that the start of ACC play will warrant another learning curve for this young Tar Heel team.
“Tonight?” he said. “Perfect example. Wake Forest isn’t ranked, but any ACC game is going to be tough. I’d rather learn the lesson with a win.”
Right now, Roy Williams probably isn’t dejected like he might have been after his team's loss to Michigan State. He probably won’t cancel a recruiting trip like he did after his team's loss to Wofford.
But still, the coach who prefers inside-out basketball has witnessed his team jack up 72 threes over the past three games. The coach who expects to play fast and funnel talent in and out of the game is, at the moment, unwilling to extend substantial minutes to his reserve players.
For North Carolina fans, it may be disconcerting that Roy Williams feels this way after a win over a six-loss Wake Forest team initially picked to finish 11th in the ACC.
The scarier part, though, is that his frustrations are valid.