For one player on the North Carolina men’s basketball team, it was the start of a journey, as a Tar Heel, against the Blue Devils. For another, it was his moment to bring a long journey full circle.
Kenny Williams remembers his last game against Duke. It was the last time he stepped on the court during a game last season.
Not long after UNC lost 86-78 to Duke on Feb. 9, 2017, in Durham, the then-sophomore guard tore his meniscus in practice. His season was over.
His last performance of the year amounted to one missed shot and two rebounds in 20 minutes. He spent the rest of the season on the bench watching his teammates punctuate a national championship run.
So, as he gathered himself to face No. 9 Duke again on Thursday night, the game meant more to him than just the animosity that comes from the two schools. This could be his chance to reconnect against the same team that derailed his plan the year before.
Before the game, he jumped around the locker room and tried not to put too much pressure on himself. Some words from Theo Pinson helped.
“He said, ‘Kenny, if you hesitate once on a shot, I’m going to punch you in the face,’” Williams recalled Pinson saying.
Whether Pinson was serious or not,
the game didn’t end in a black eye.