Joel Berry II deflected the pass right around UNC's free throw line, and it kept rolling.
As the ball skipped farther and farther into the backcourt, two players gave chase. Pittsburgh's Shamiel Stevenson was set on regaining possession and cutting into the Tar Heels' 37-32 lead.
Garrison Brooks, the UNC forward who was benched close to a month ago and hasn't started since, was running for another reason. In the days leading up to Brooks' collegiate debut, head coach Roy Williams sat him in during the Nov. 5 Disaster Relief Jamboree for not hitting the floor.
And ahead of the team's Nov. 10 season opener, Williams told his team something that Brooks has taken to heart ever since: "Every loose ball on the ground has UNC on it."
Stevenson had a step on his defender as he scooped up the ball and dribbled behind his back to avoid a diving Brooks. But Cameron Johnson, who was trailing the two, poked the ball away from Stevenson again.
The ball rolled to the feet of Brooks. He hit the ground again, twisted his body and found Johnson for a wide-open layup. North Carolina's lead was 39-32, and the Smith Center crowd roared.
“Sprint the floor with a sense of urgency, defend with a sense of urgency, box out with a sense of urgency, go to the bathroom with a sense of urgency," Williams said of the philosophy. "If they don’t have it right, now they’re not opening their ears or their eyes."
This moment was part of a 14-3 run the Tar Heels used to grab a 10-point lead at the break. There were several instances of pure hustle that defined this game.
“We had three great spurts where people were diving on the floor and doing those kind of things," Williams said, "and that was sensational."
Now, this one play didn’t win North Carolina (17-7, 6-5 ACC) the game. The Tar Heels cruised to a 96-65 victory, thanks to a dominant second half in which they outscored Pittsburgh 51-30 and shot 53 percent. But Brooks' hustle, as well as that of others, was an important piece.
Forward Luke Maye was on the floor as well, to wrestle away a possession, and forward Theo Pinson scored his only points of the game on an out-of-nowhere putback dunk. Brooks went on to score 10 points on 5-6 shooting, and he also had a career-high three steals. He only had five coming into the game.
Guard Kenny Williams is usually the one that get the crowd going by diving on the floor and doing whatever it takes, and he said he was thrilled to see his teammates getting in the action.
“As a team, you don’t want just one guy trying to make those hustle plays, you want everyone to do it,” he said. “You want everybody to do what’s best for the team. So it was great to see. And it was great for them because they can see that, 'Hey, I can fire everybody up, too.’”
Hustle isn’t an official stat, technically, but it showed in the box score of this matchup. The Tar Heels outscored Pittsburgh 22-8 in second chance points and outrebounded them, 47-28. Pittsburgh didn't score a single fast-break point, while UNC had 11. North Carolina also had a season-high nine steals.
This sense of urgency could mean a few things. The players could’ve been feeling the pressure of a three-game skid, which is likely, at least in a small capacity. It could also be that it’s February, and the coaching staff knows what it needs from their players.
The Tar Heels are entering perhaps the roughest stretch of their schedule, and grit is going to be necessary to pull out wins against teams like N.C. State, Louisville, and, of course, Duke.
And like on Saturday, it can’t be one play or one player.
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