After North Carolina’s home win against Florida State on Saturday, Coby White was frustrated with himself.
It was the fourth consecutive game that the first-year guard had shot 40 percent or lower from the floor. In that stretch, White had combined for just 17 makes on 56 field goal attempts and totaled 14 turnovers. He felt like he could be playing better.
But a meeting with his brother — a graduate assistant for UNC-Greensboro’s basketball team — changed his mindset.
“At the end of the day, he told me, ‘You’re still a freshman,’” White said. “'You just turned 19, so you’re still young. You’re trying to find your way. Just stay confident.'”
After White scored a career-high 34 points and hit 6 of his 11 3-point attempts in UNC’s 93-85 win against Syracuse on Tuesday night, it’s safe to say the conversation helped him turn things around.
Head coach Roy Williams had a feeling his first-year point guard was due for a big night.
“I’ve said before, he’s the best scoring point guard that I’ve coached,” Williams said after the Tar Heels’ win. “Ty Lawson got to that stage later that he could really score, but Coby’s a scorer. And I’ve never minded a scoring point guard. I knew he was bound to make some because he hadn’t made any the last three or four weeks.”
When the Goldsboro, N.C. native made his first basket of the night — a 3-pointer about four minutes into game — he felt he had found his groove.
“I just came in with a lot of confidence,” White said. “I hit my first one, and it felt pretty good. I was just trying to find a rhythm and get my confidence back.”
Throughout the rest of the contest, it was evident that the first-year had gotten his mojo back. When Syracuse forward Elijah Hughes hit the fourth of his five first-half 3-pointers with 5:20 to play until halftime, White responded with a 3-pointer of his own.
At the end of the first half, UNC’s second-leading scorer had pretty much already matched his average of 15.2 points per game with 15 points on just three made field goals. A little less than half of his points came from the free throw line, where he was a perfect 7-for-7 in the first 20 minutes.
But with the Tar Heels trailing the Orange, 46-43 at halftime, a message from his head coach in the locker room ignited him.
“He told us we sucked in the first half,” White said. “He straight up told us we didn’t play good at all … So we went out there with a different mentality.”
In the second half, the 6-foot-5 guard played with an assertiveness and looked for his shot. White opened up scoring for UNC with a 3-pointer to tie the game just 42 seconds after halftime, and when Syracuse hit a shot from deep, he often was quick to return the favor.
After Syracuse guard Frank Howard hit a shot from deep less than a minute after White’s first shot of the second half, White nailed another three. With 12:09 left in the game, when the Orange’s Tyus Battle cut his team’s deficit to one point, White made a 3-pointer of his own seven seconds later.
On a night when the Tar Heels’ opponent shot 14 of 31 from 3-point land, it was White’s hot hand that allowed UNC to win its 11th game in an 12-game stretch.
When he was fouled with UNC in the bonus and 45 seconds left in the contest, he drained both free throws, setting a new career high and etching his name into Tar Heel history. White — who scored 33 against Texas in November and 33 against Miami earlier this month — became the first Tar Heel first-year to score 30 points three times.
“For him to play like that, to not play like a freshman, I think it says a lot to his game,” senior guard Kenny Williams said. “He’s a big time player, and I think he’s showing that every single night.”
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