Believe it or not, Roy Williams was not happy about much following No. 7 North Carolina’s 90-72 win over Stanford Monday night in the home opener at the Smith Center. The Tar Heel head coach was not a fan of his team’s defense or the way his offense responded to second-half adjustments by the Cardinal.
But when pressed, the Tar Heel coach did find one positive: Kenny Williams’ shot started to fall.
After struggling during the first week of the season, Williams went for 12 points and four assists against Stanford as one of four Tar Heels to reach double figures.
“I’m going to play him forever,” Roy Williams said of his senior guard. “Yes, I’d like him to make a jump shot before I die, is what I told him. And he did, and I’m appreciative of that.”
Exaggeration aside, Kenny Williams was in a bit of a bizarre slump to start off his final campaign as a Tar Heel.
While UNC handled its business in road victories against Wofford and Elon, Williams scored just one point between the two games (a free throw) and was 0-for-10 from the field.
How uncharacteristic was that of Kenny Williams? A season ago, he made at least one shot from the field in every game he played in.
Even when he did right, it was to no avail.
“The one shot I did make on Friday night (against Elon), it was after a whistle,” Kenny Williams said. “I got a little upset about it.”
Against Stanford, there were no whistles to cancel out makes by Kenny Williams. The first one came on a layup, the game’s first points, which Kenny Williams said was a little lucky.
But a make is a make, right?
“Yeah, it was a big relief,” Kenny Williams said.
Soon after came a 3-pointer from the right wing, a shot Tar Heel fans have seen him connect on countless times. Graduate guard Cameron Johnson is the only Tar Heel who has more career makes from 3-point range than Kenny Williams, and he was back to reminding everyone of that.
Maybe it helped that Stanford was in town.
Nearly a year ago, Kenny Williams set a career high with 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range in a 96-72 win in Palo Alto, Calif.
The memories of that performance were fresh in Kenny Williams’ mind thanks to the UNC coaching staff.
“In our scouting clip tape, (assistant coach Steve Robinson) actually put some clips from last year in there, so that was a little mental thing for me,” he said. “He told me he did it so I could see the ball go through.”
On Monday night, the ball did go through for him.
Kenny Williams didn’t necessarily command attention offensively on a night where Johnson went for 17 and Luke Maye turned in the type of 16-point performance that has become so typical of him. But when he had the chance to leave a mark on the game with his shot, he did, converting on 4-of-6 attempts from the field.
Perhaps the true sign that Kenny Williams was out of his funk was his second 3-pointer of the night, a second-half make that came from way downtown.
“That was the old Kenny because he just knew he was going to knock it in,” Roy Williams said.
In reality, the UNC coach didn’t think his senior guard was ever that worried about his early-season struggles.
Kenny Williams agreed.
“The shot just wasn’t going in,” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything different to my shot. Like I told you guys, it just wasn’t going in, and that happens sometimes. At some point they’ll end up falling again.”
Even when the shots weren’t falling for Kenny Williams, he was still contributing, which reveals how important he is to the Tar Heels.
Against Wofford, for instance, Williams tallied a team-high five assists and stymied the Terriers’ Fletcher Magee, the preseason SoCon Player of the Year, with his defense.
This aspect of his game is not lost on his teammates.
“The one thing I respect about him is that he can go a game without scoring, but he can impact the game in so many different ways than just scoring the basketball,” first-year guard Coby White said. “Him doing that, I think that’s incredible.”
Against the Cardinal, scoring was part of Williams’ impact on the game. He and his teammates hope that remains the case.
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