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The Daily Tar Heel

North Carolina cleans up its act, earns Sweet 16 nod with 81-59 win over Washington

Cam Johnson Washington NCAA Round 2
Graduate guard Cam Johnson (13) shoots a three-pointer against Washington in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH on Sunday, March 24, 2019. UNC defeated Washington 81-59. Johnson scored 13 points for the Tar Heels.

COLUMBUS, OHIO — For the North Carolina men’s basketball team, other wins may have been more exciting, but few have been as sweet.

After leading 41-33, but coughing it up 10 times in the first half, the No. 1 seeded Tar Heels (29-6) cleaned up their act after the break, handling No. 9 seed Washington, 81-59, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Tar Heels turned it over just five times in the second half, and used a 13-3 run to start the period to separate themselves against the Huskies and earn a spot in the Sweet 16.

“They were getting a lot of points off of turnovers, and we just had to get stops,” junior guard Brandon Robinson said. “I think that’s definitely the keys to the game for us. When we stop turning the ball over, lock in on defense, play with a little bit more toughness, we play better.”

The Tar Heels shot efficiently before and after halftime – 16-31 in the first half, 16-32 in the second – so the simple matter of taking care of the ball made a big difference in giving North Carolina separation.

“Ten turnovers in the first half was very discouraging,” head coach Roy Williams said.

Robinson agreed, and went on to explain how that turnover turnaround came to be.

“I thought they made it difficult on us in the first half,” Robinson said. “But we just calmed down a little bit, tried not to rush shots from the outside, get the ball to the middle.”

That composure led to 38 points in the paint, and a combined 40 points overall between forwards Luke Maye and Nassir Little. Both were key when operating in the middle of the zone, looking for their shots and establishing North Carolina’s dominance inside.

“They do a really good job of covering the perimeter, making it tough on perimeter shooters, and they kind of make you second guess your passes a little bit,” Cameron Johnson said. “But once you get the ball to the middle, it’s a little bit of a soft spot, and you can exploit that two-on-one.”

The Sweet 16 appearance is a distinction that North Carolina has earned 10 times under Williams, and four times in the last five years. But it was the first such honor, it should be noted, for Johnson, a graduate guard whose first chance at a deep postseason run ended after last year’s second-round loss to Texas A&M.

“Who wouldn’t want to be in the Sweet 16?” Johnson said. “I don’t know how the feeling is once you’ve been there a handful of times, but you dream of this stuff as a kid. Obviously I couldn’t get there in the past, so to get here now feels pretty good.”

Johnson also exemplified the theme of taking care of the ball, recording seven assists without a single turnover. He was 5-10 from the field for 13 points, and was the picture of calm throughout. 

That sense of level-headedness was present after the game, as well.

“It feels great,” Johnson said. “I feel like we’ve worked hard to get to this point. I feel like it wasn’t given to us, so that’s something that we can feel good about. 

“But you can’t feel good for too long, because Auburn’s waiting for us in Kansas City.”


@DTHSports |

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