North Carolina's Justin Jackson (44) passes the ball while Notre Dame's Rex Pflueger (0) defends during the first half of Sunday’s game in Greensboro. The Tar Heels won 83-76 in the game that was originally scheduled for Saturday evening in Chapel Hill.
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
It was an odd weekend for the North Carolina basketball team and all residents of Chapel Hill. A water crisis created by both an influx of fluoride and a break in a water main forced a closure of campus Friday.
The Tar Heels’ game against then No. 20-ranked Notre Dame game, originally schedule for Saturday at 6 p.m. in Chapel Hill, was moved to the Greensboro Coliseum for Sunday afternoon at 1.
The Tar Heels withstood a feisty and scrappy Irish team to win 83-76 in front of a rowdy Carolina blue Greensboro crowd that helped them stay in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
UNC head coach Roy Williams praised the Gate City crowd, saying: “The people here today, I’m thrilled. Those people were into it; I love them, I wish I could say thank you to every single one of them, because they were important to us winning the game.”
UNC, which moved up from No. 12 to eighth in The Associated Press Top 25 that was released Monday, used a balanced offensive attack and dominant interior play to go ahead early. The Heels made enough plays late to pull out the win.
“We tried to get in inside and play to our advantage there,” Williams said.
UNC outrebounded the Irish 44-25 and played to its strengths with a 40-18 interior-scoring difference.
North Carolina was led by the usual suspects. Junior Justin Jackson had 16 points, Isaiah Hicks had 14 and Joel Berry — who went scoreless in the first half — finished with 12 points.
The NCAA announced Monday that the game would be considered a home game for UNC for purposes of RPI rankings.
Williams raved about UNC’s offensive balance in his post game presser, expressing his common line of thinking that it is hard to guard a team when multiple guys can score.
Against Notre Dame, six Carolina players scored in double figures as Jackson, Hicks and Berry were joined by freshman center Tony Bradley, who had 12 points, while both Kennedy Meeks and Kenny Williams added 11 each
“We don’t really have to rely on one person,” Hicks said after the win. “Like if someone has an off game — Joel didn’t score in the first half and other people stepped up and filled that void and then Joel stepped it up.”
The Tar Heels are at their best when they are balanced. Jackson and Berry have led UNC most of the season, but Hicks and Meeks have proven they can carry the load. Add in solid contributions from Williams and Bradley off the bench and this Carolina team will be hard to beat when clicking on all cylinders.
That’s been true for most of the season as Jackson leads the team with 18.6 points per game, followed by Berry (14.9), Hicks (12.8), Meeks (12.6), Bradley (7.7) and Williams (6.2).
WILLIAMS FINDS HIS STROKE
With Berry going scoreless in the first half of the Notre Dame game, Kenny Williams stepped up his play with three 3-pointers and 11 total points. He attributed a meeting with Roy Williams to helping his confidence.
“He was just telling me he believed in me. And I should believe in myself,” Kenny Williams said after UNC’s win. “It was very helpful, confidence -wise. It gave me a little confidence boost, which I think showed tonight. It was good for me to hear him say he still believes in me.”
Williams’ 11 points was the most since he scored 12 in UNC’s 93-87 victory at Wake Forest on Jan. 11. Since that game, he never lost his shooting stroke, but rather a bit of his mental rhythm.
“Being a shooter, is something that I pride myself on and not being able to do that, got to me a little bit,” said the Virginia native.
It’s Duke week.
The Tar Heels will take on the No. Blue Devils on Thursday evening at 8 in Cameron Indoor in Durham. The game can be seen on ESPN and the ACC Network.
North Carolina sits at 21-4 overall and 9-2 in the ACC while the Blue Devils, 18-5 overall and 6-4 in conference, are coming off three straight wins over Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Also, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is back after making his much-anticipated grand return to the Blue Devil bench in Saturday’s win over Pitt. He missed seven games following back surgery in January.
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.