R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Coby White’s poise running North Carolina’s offense and managing its games seems to be hitting its peak at just the right time.
Turnovers, bad decisions and an occasional curious shot have come up now and then during an otherwise impressive freshman season.
All of that isn’t happening much of late, and his overall efficiency is as good as it’s been all season.
White collected 19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and only turned the ball over only once to lead the No. 3-ranked Tar Heels to an 83–70 victory over No. 7-seed Louisville in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
That earns No. 2-seed Carolina a third meeting with No. 3-seed and No. 4-ranked Duke in Friday night’s semifinals, with possibly a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament on the line.
“I just started to look and see where the defense is at, and just take what they give me,” White said.
“Early on, I kind of forced it a lot when I first started here. But I think I’m starting to make better decisions on it.”
White is very dangerous when he’s hot from 3-point range.
But Thursday night was another example of his ability to have a substantial offensive impact even on a night that he made only 1 of 7 3-point attempts.
The Cardinals held White to 1 of 16 shooting from 3-point range in the three games but still couldn’t contain him.
“I got to the basket, I made some tough plays at the basket,” White said.
“But I could have played better. All I care about is the win.”
All of White’s numbers were impressive.
But that turnover number might be the most impressive.
The six turnovers in a forgettable effort at Duke seem like a long time ago.
“I think I’m just trying to make the easy play instead of the home-run play,” White said.
“Not trying to force it, not trying to do too much with the ball and just make the correct play and I think, early on, I was trying to force it and make the home-run play. But that didn’t benefit me, so Coach got on me a lot about turning the ball over and I think I’m getting better each game.”
The only turnover against the Cardinals happened when he lost control of the ball on a fast break.
He has only two turnovers in the last three games after committing nine in the previous two.
“I’ll say something for Coby,” Coach Roy Williams said.
“He said earlier in the year he was trying to get there. He’s got better at reading it. But I always want him to be aggressive. I like point guards that are aggressive, take the ball to the basket and make plays, and I think his attacking the rim in the first half was huge for us.”
Cameron Johnson, who scored all 14 of his points in the first half, said it’s obvious that White is making more smart plays of late.
“You mature as the season goes on,” Johnson said.
“You learn what plays you should make, what plays you shouldn’t and he’s doing a good job of that. He did a good job of rebounding and passing the ball and attacking. So, I think it was one of his better games.”
White has put up much more prolific scoring games this season, but not an overall game like Thursday against Louisville.
He still tied for the team scoring lead in the win with Luke Maye.
“I think that’s his maturation showing,” Kenny Williams said.
“He’s not trying to force anything and he’s just playing the game, not thinking about it, and that’s when you get the good results like that.”
White’s ability to get the ball down court quickly led UNC to outscore Louisville 27-15 on fast break points.
“Coach preaches push the ball every day in practice, and in the games and we try to do it every game,” White said.
“Today, we really pushed it and I got on the break and it benefited us well.”
Even with the possibility of playing three games in three nights, White played more than 35 minutes, only the fourth time he’s played more than 33 this season.
“Coby does it all, man,” said Garrison Brooks, who scored 11 points.
“I’m proud of him. He plays really well, and he knows we need him to. He’s making better decisions. He’s just growing up as a point guard. I think he’s just being himself.”
Now, it’s on to a semifinal clash with Duke for the third consecutive season.
Duke won in 2017 in Brooklyn 93-83, and UNC won in 2018 in Brooklyn 73-69.
In both cases, the winning team won the season series 2-1.
UNC already has clinched the season series with the Blue Devils because they swept the two regular-season games.
But Friday will be the first time they’ve faced Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson for an entire game.
It’s UNC-Duke, so you know it’s going to be special.
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