CHAPEL HILL/SMITH CENTER — Three days after Thanksgiving, North Carolina nearly laid a turkey. The Tar Heels struggled against Nevada at home on Sunday night, requiring a late run to overtake the Wolf Pack 80-73 and giving Roy Williams his 600th career victory.
The Wolf Pack appeared on the verge of folding early, falling behind by double digits and struggling to get good shots. But Nevada began to hit jumpers — including some heavily contested ones — and actually took a brief lead in the second half.
The Tar Heels needed a career game from point guard Larry Drew and got one; he tallied 12 points and 10 assists with only one turnover. Sophomore big man Ed Davis — his “Easy Ed” moniker hasn’t always been applied as a compliment this season — also amped up his intensity, going for 16 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. Senior Deon Thompson continues to work consistently, adding 23 points and eight rebounds.
As a team, the Heels shot 47 percent from the field. That number should have been higher, but several players missed chipshots at the rim. Meanwhile, the Wolf Pack had a few hot stretches but hit just 41 percent overall, including a woeful 24 percent on threes.
Surprisingly, Carolina did not dominate the much smaller (but quicker) Wolf Pack on the glass, garnering a mere three-rebound advantage.
Looking at trends, Williams said recently that he’d begin to trim the rotation, and he showed signs of doing just that on Sunday night. Freshman Leslie McDonald did not play and fellow frosh Travis Wear played only two minutes, while sophomore Justin Watts saw only five minutes of court action.
Williams also operated with a much quicker hook, yanking players out of the game after a bad play, whereas in the first few games he was more tolerant of players’ mistakes.
The Nevada game seemed to bring out the best of the fans who were in attendance, though the numerous empty seats in the stadium’s lower bowl drew an admonishment from Williams after the game. At the point the Wolf Pack took the lead, fans rallied behind the team and helped enthuse a run that enabled the heels to reestablish a working margin.
Carolina is resting today but will play top-10 Michigan State — a club consisting largely of the same players last year’s Tar Heels beat twice, including in the national final — on Tuesday night as part of the ACC/Big Ten challenge.
To see the full UNC/Nevada box score, click here.