Suddenly relatively undermanned, North Carolina leaned on senior forward Luke Maye and graduate forward Cameron Johnson to carry the scoring load. Both players had 10 first-half points and were a big reason for the Tar Heels’ 41-31 advantage at halftime. Maye would finish with a game-high 14, while Johnson finished with 13 points on 2 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc.
First-year forward Nassir Little also came out firing off the bench, finishing a strong and-one layup before halftime and throwing in a solid defensive effort. However, his head coach saw things differently.
“I think he was better tonight,” Williams said. “He gave up two threes in a row to 3-point shooters, so your definition of locked in (defensively) would be a little different than mine.”
Offensively, Little was undeniably effective, finishing with 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting, including a rare 3-pointer that featured a smooth-looking stroke. Little attributed his recent improvement in play to simply thinking less while on the court.
“When you’re trying to learn things, everything’s a thought process,” Little said. “I just had to turn my mindset more into, ‘Stop being a robot and just play basketball.’”
A 16-1 second-half run separated the Tar Heels for good, including a fatal stretch where the Crimson failed to score for over six minutes. When asked whether the run was more due to offense or defense, Williams attributed it to “a little bit of both.”
“We got some stops defensively and we took better shots,” Williams said. “We’re a good shooting team.”
He went on, however, to chastise his team for a few ill-advised shots.
“When Luke Maye tries to bounce around and shoot the ball with four guys all over him, that’s not a good shot,” Williams said. “Cam Johnson shoots a 3-pointer and gets it blocked, that’s not a good shot. Those guys can really shoot the basketball, but we’ve got to get better shots.”
Throughout the season, Williams has been consistent on where he feels the team can improve — turnovers, and defense. Against Harvard, his team won the turnover battle, coughing it up just 11 times and scoring 21 points on the Crimson’s 22 giveaways. The Tar Heels also limited Harvard to 38.9 percent from the field and 8 of 24 from three. In the ACC, there are no nights off; only time will tell if the improvements will last against superior competition.
When Williams was asked how close his team is to where he wants them to be as conference play, he quipped, “Nowhere near. Not in the same freaking universe.” Still, his players couldn’t help but feel optimistic about their chances.
“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” Maye said.
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