R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — After the tears fell before the game, so did Kenny Williams’ shot … finally.
So did his body, to draw charges at key moments.
It was pretty much a made-to-order senior night for Williams, who has struggled from the perimeter for much of the season.
He made a season-high four 3-pointers in the No. 3 Tar Heels’ 79-90 victory Saturday over No. 4 Duke on his way to a season-high 18 points.
“I wanted to go out on a high note and I think I did that,” Williams said.
“It just means a lot because everybody knows I haven’t been playing as well as I wanted to. I just wanted to keep trusting in myself, God and my teammates and everything worked out.”
Raising the bar
Four 3-pointers were the most by Williams since he hit four against Lipscomb in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament.
For so many games, his shot would consistently nearly go in but bounce out.
Kenny Williams was massive during a pivotal stretch of the first half
Duke leads 29-24
Seventh Woods pass hits Kenny in the shin, Woods recovers and Kenny knocks down a 3
Cam Reddish hits a 3 to make it 32-27
Kenny drains another 3 & then he does what he does
— Dadgum Box Scores (@dadgumboxscores) March 10, 2019
“He willed a couple of them in the hole,” Coach Roy Williams said.
“One time, when the guy is falling down beside him, he’s standing there wide open and willed the ball in the hole.”
Kenny Williams has always had that shooter’s mentality but he’s finally getting rewarded. Williams has six 3-pointers in the last two games after combining for five in the previous eight games.
“I think last game, especially, seeing the ball through was big for me,” he said.
“Tonight, I had a couple where I was able to just take my time, get my feet set and get the shot I wanted to shoot on my time, and that’s why I was able to knock them down.”.
He had to work through his many emotions during senior night ceremonies before the game that included tears and hugs — for his parents, his coach and his teammates.
“Tonight, I cried multiple times. Plus, you know that you have to settle yourself as quick as you can,” Williams said.
“It’s just tough. You get so used to playing here. It feels like another home and, before you blink, you realize that’s your last game. If I could, I would play here for the rest of my life. But you only get four years, so that coming to an end is tough.”
While it was probably his best offensive game of the season, it was his defense on RJ Barrett that provided some big game-changing moments.
Williams drew charges for three of Barrett’s four fouls, then blocked Barrett’s 3-point attempt with 2:19 left that could have cut UNC’s lead to two.
“I knew he was going to pull it,” Williams said of the block.
“I saw it, and I just wanted to get a hand as close as I could to the shot. I got a hand on the ball and, luckily, we came up with it. I tried to yell as much as I could that I tipped it. Just being alert and knowing he was going to go for the 3.”
Sacrificing the body
Barrett was a victim of the dirty work that Williams is known for with his ability to draw those fouls. Williams has drawn 25 charges this season and 72 in his career, according to Adrian Atkinson.
“I just think him getting the charge calls took away some of his aggressiveness and kind of messed up his rhythm a little bit,” Williams said.
“I think that was a great part of the game.”
Kenny Williams taking charges
All the charges pic.twitter.com/9ramXS10BZ
— Dadgum Box Scores (@dadgumboxscores) March 10, 2019
Williams definitely didn’t save any energy.
“I was tired,” said Williams, who tied his career high with 39 minutes.
“I think I was running on adrenaline from the tip. That was probably one of the more tired games I’ve ever had. I was fatigued. I think playing defense on RJ for 40 minutes took a lot out of me.”
Barrett scored a game-high 26 points, but they didn’t come easy.
“This is kind of between us,” Williams said.
“But in the handshake line, I think I gained some of RJ’s respect because he came up to me and said, ‘you have to teach me to play defense like that.’ Of course, he was joking. But for him to feel it and to feel me defensively, it means a lot because I take pride in that end of the game.”
If there’s anybody who knows how difficult it is to deal with Williams’ defense, it’s Cameron Johnson, who has to deal with it frequently in practice.
And Johnson said the drawn charges were huge.
“That is what he does,” said Johnson, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“He makes those plays all the time, and he is a guy you really want on your team. It sucks playing against him. I can tell you that and know that first-hand and seen it from this perspective. I love playing with him and having him as a teammate.”
Respecting the opposition
Not only does he play good defense, but he also uses the scouting report to his advantage.
He knew Barrett’s tendencies and took advantage of that.
“He’s a great player,” Williams said.
“If you let him go left, then he’ll eat you alive and I just wanted to sit on that as much as I could and force him to go right as much as I could. When he went left, that’s when he really got all of the charging calls.
“There is no science to it, no technique,” Williams said.
“I would slide my feet and get there before he got there. I got the contact and I fell. I know he went to the refs trying to say that I was flopping but I think I was getting decent enough contact to fall.”
Williams clearly contends that none of the charges he drew were flops.
And his senior season certainly isn’t ending with a flop.
Triangle Sports Network: 401-323-8960, @TSportsNet