R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — If North Carolina needs a big basket in a key spot, who is the Tar Heels’ go-to guy?
The fact that it’s sometimes a difficult question might be good.
There could be a different answer depending upon the game, and that’s what makes UNC particularly dangerous offensively this season.
In many games, it’s been graduate student Cameron Johnson.
Other days — such as Saturday’s 88-85 overtime victory over Miami, it’s freshman point guard Coby White.
And sometimes it’s senior forward Luke Maye.
It was a multiple-choice question at some moments of the Miami win, and that will probably need to be the case Monday night against the torrid pack-line defense of Virginia.
“You can’t play one person,” senior guard Kenny Williams said.
“It makes you play us honest because we have so many guys who we can go to.”
That proved to be true Saturday, on a day when Williams hadn’t taken many shots and maybe was forgotten by the Canes.
He made a huge 3-pointer with 2:08 left in overtime to give UNC the lead for good and account for three of his five points.
“You don’t know who the set is going to,” he said.
“You don’t know who the play is for. It just helps us out a lot on offense because you can’t just key on one guy. We have multiple threats. Guys who have been there. Big-time players and we can make big-time plays, so it just helps us out a little bit to have that many guys who can make big-time plays.”
Coby White was certainly a big-time player with 33 points and, at times, single-handedly keeping the Tar Heels in the game.
So, Miami adjusted as regulation time winded down after he had made seven 3-pointers and started double-teaming off screens.
Williams noticed that and suggested he consider a quick pass to Maye the next time.
That next time produced an open shot for Maye, who hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.
“It was one of our secondary plays, one of our secondary options,” Williams said.
“They miscommunicated, left one of the best shooters in the country open, and he knocked it down. I wasn’t surprised at all to see Luke make that shot. He does what he does. He is a big-time player and he always comes through when we need him the most.”
Again, there were too many go-to guys to focus on one.
“We have a lot of guys on our team,” said Johnson who scored 12 and made 2 of 7 3-point attempts.
“Pretty dangerous. It’s hard to scout. When one guy kind of falters — I had a rough day today shooting — but you see Luke had a big day, Coby had a big day, Kenny hit a huge shot, that’s what you want to see.
““We really trust each other in those big moments. It’s great to see those guys make big plays. To see all those contributions, it was great and that was ultimately what gave us the win.”
White hasn’t had to be the go-to guy much in his short Carolina career.
But he was that guy on a nightly basis in high school, so he’s not shy about being in that role.
“I am pretty confident,” White said.
“We got plenty of guys that can be the guy. We like eight deep, nine deep so today was just my day. I got into a rhythm, a good rhythm, and I just kept playing.”
It was the second 33-point game of his UNC career, but his first in a win.
He also scored 33 in a loss to Texas.
Coach Roy Williams hasn’t had other point guards who are such prolific scorers.
“Well, at his position I’d say he’s been the best,” Williams said.
“Coby is a scoring point guard, I like scoring point guards. Kendall Marshall was a great point guard for us, but he was not a scoring point guard. Ty Lawson was a scoring point guard, Marcus [Paige], Joel Berry, Raymond [Felton], so I am not against scoring point guards. If you can score, you can score. The guy [White] did score more points than anyone in the history of high school basketball, so, it’s not a real surprise.”
Maye, who also hit a key jumper in overtime, said he’s seen a lot of growth in White over the course of the season.
“He has played really well,” said Maye, who scored 20 points.
“He still did a lot with the ball and his scoring is unbelievable. He’s a natural-born scorer. For him to hit so many threes tonight was huge for our team. When we needed a big shot, he was hitting them.”
Against Virginia on Monday night, UNC will probably need another good 3-point shooting game close to what Duke produced Saturday.
The Blue Devils made an ACC-high 13 3s in their 81-71 win in Charlottesville.
UNC also collected 13 3-pointers on Saturday and has double-digit 3-pointers in five of its 10 ACC games this season.
It won’t be easy against the Cavaliers considering that Saturday was the first time all season that they have given up double-digit 3s.
The Tar Heels certainly have the shooters to come through with a big perimeter game.
Kenny Williams said that this was the most prolific 3-point shooting team he’s played with in his four seasons in Chapel Hill.
“I think so,” he said.
“At any point, we can put five guys on there that can knock down the three at a high rate.”
They’ll need to combine that perimeter punch and an inside presence that can possibly lead to foul trouble for Virginia center Jack Salt.
Johnson said that the inside play this season from Garrison Brooks has helped lead to fewer contested 3-point attempts.
“Obviously, with the development of Garrison, I think that’s big for us,” Johnson said.
“Then we have Coby and Nas [Little], and Kenny is doing a good job of attacking the basket this year. That’s opening up the 3 ball for us, making it a little easier, making those shots more in rhythm.”
Monday’s game will be a far cry from last Tuesday’s N.C. State game, when UNC had 88 possessions.
Miami gave UNC somewhat of a taste of the expected pace Monday, since two of UNC’s three lowest possession games of the season have come against the Hurricanes (69 in the first game and 70 on Saturday.)
“Their defense is one of the best in the country and it’s a low-possession game, so we can’t be silly with the basketball,” Kenny Williams said.
“We can’t turn it over 15, 20 times like we have in some games. We just have to be sharp. Then, at the other end, we’ve got to be sharp also. We have to be attentive and we’ve got to pay attention to defense.”
The fewest possessions last season came in the two losses to Virginia with 58 and 59.
“They really just slow the game down and make you defend for 30 [seconds] and play offense for 30,” Johnson said.
“It kind of changes the whole dynamic of the game, and it makes every possession matter just a little bit more. They really try to limit fast-break opportunities and a lot of that stuff. We are going to have to come out with a lot better focus.”
A win over Virginia (20-2, 8-2 ACC) will give UNC (9-1, 4-1) a half-game lead atop the ACC, at least until Duke (21-2, 9-1) plays at Louisville on Tuesday night.
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