CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 5 North Carolina received a spark from an unexpected source in the first half of Saturday’s 67-55 win over N.C. State.
Nate Britt may have finished the game with a pedestrian stat line – three points on 1-for-3 shooting to go along with one assist and two steals - but stats don’t tell the entire story. The junior backup point guard brought something that cannot be measured by numbers to a UNC squad struggling to match the Wolfpack’s intensity.
“The story of the first half was that Nate Britt was the only guy that gave us a chance,” head coach Roy Williams said after the game. “I thought he really picked us up defensively.”
Britt checked in for Joel Berry with UNC trailing, 21-16, with 8:25 to play in the first half. On his first possession, he snagged a defensive rebound and passed the ball off, only to get it back from sophomore wing Justin Jackson at the top of the key, where he buried a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two.
On N.C. State’s ensuing possession, Britt stripped the ball from Caleb Martin and found Brice Johnson in transition for a game-tying dunk.
“Those two steals and the transition bucket I got to Brice I think kind of changed the momentum of the game,” Britt said. “The crowd got into it and our team got into it.”
Britt also helped North Carolina’s guards turn in one of their best defensive performances of the season on ACC scoring leader Cat Barber. The junior Wolfpack guard entered Saturday’s contest averaging 22.5 points per game, but UNC held him to a season-low nine points and forced him into five turnovers.
“We tried to keep him contained,” Williams said of his team’s approach to Barber. “Nate, in the first half, was good defensively on him.”
Britt’s injection spanned a little more than five minutes, although the energy and scrap he provided changed the complexion of the game.
“He was huge,” senior guard Marcus Paige said. “Coach [Hubert] Davis, when we came in the locker room, said that he was the only one giving us anything in the first half. And then we kind of built off that going into the second half… Nate deserves a lot of credit for the way he played in the first half.”