HONOLULU – No. 5 North Carolina withstood a charged Hawai’i squad despite Joel Berry’s shooting struggles in Friday’s 83-68 victory at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Berry entered this Hawaiian road trip averaging 21.3 points per game on 60 percent shooting. The junior point guard missed his first seven field goal attempts and coughed up four turnovers – he also dished out six assists - in his lowest scoring outing since being held scoreless against Duke on March 7, 2015. Berry’s lone field goal came on a jumper with 5:10 to play. He finished with 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting (0-for-5 3FG).
“It was just one of those days,” Berry said after the game. “I think that was my worst game since Kansas State last year. I just couldn’t hit anything.”
One potential reason for the off night was his inability to get to the charity stripe: Berry did not attempt a free throw after attempting 30 in UNC’s first three games.
“I think they prided themselves on the defensive end, standing in there and taking charges,” Berry said. “Honestly, I could have gotten into the lane, but I tried to get my shot going and it just wasn’t falling. I felt like either my shot was short or it was long. It just didn’t feel good when I was shooting it.”
Britt Making Plays
Senior guard Nate Britt made his third consecutive start at the two-guard and backed up his head coach’s decision off the tip by forcing turnovers on Hawai’i’s first two possessions. The Upper Marlboro, Md. native, who is battling sophomore wing Kenny Williams for the starting spot in Theo Pinson’s absence, also handed out back-to-back assists in a key 13-2 first-half run to create separation.
When Hawaii had possession trailing 30-27, it was Britt that came up with a steal and a transition layup. He also knocked down a critical 3-pointer to give UNC a 69-58 lead with 5:30 to play. Britt finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (3-of-5 3FG), three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Williams has downplayed any separation between the competing players, even following games when one appeared to play better than the other. Friday was no exception.
“I was really pleased with what Nate did, and I was not displeased with what Kenny did, so I feel good about the game both of those guys are giving us," the 14th-year UNC head coach said.
Offensive Rebounds Provide Margin
Neither team shot better than 36 percent from the floor in the first half, but UNC was superior in turning its misses in points with a 12-4 rebounding edge on the offensive glass, which resulted in a 17-4 advantage in second-chance points. Eleven of the Tar Heels’ first 15 points came off offensive rebounds.
The Tar Heels shot 63.3 percent after halftime, but still managed a 28-8 edge in second-chance points.
UNC’s rookie class provided valuable minutes off the bench with the starters struggling to find their shooting touch. The trio of Tony Bradley, Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson combined for 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 20 rebounds and five assists.
Bradley (10 points) scored in double figures for the fourth consecutive game - the most by a Tar Heel freshman to open a career since Brandan Wright scored in double figures in his first 18 games in 2006-07 - and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. Woods (7 points) continued to progress in his backup point guard role, running the offense and knocking down a key 3-pointer in the second half to push UNC’s lead out to eight points.
Robinson delivered a significant boost in the first after the Rainbow Warriors cut their deficit to 17-16 with an 8-0 run. The freshman wing quieted a raucous crowd with a corner 3-ball and then extended UNC’s lead to six points with a basket at the rim on the next possession.
It was only a week ago the freshman trio was debuting as Tar Heels, complete with butterflies and bright eyes. The transition period is occurring rapidly given that all three have already logged 50 minutes or more.
“It has to happen quickly because we play a big-time schedule and Coach is trying to play a lot of guys, so he needs me to come in and step up,” Robinson said.
UNC will take an island hopper from Oahu to Maui on Saturday for the second leg of its Hawaii adventure. The Tar Heels open their seventh Maui Invitational against host Chaminade on Monday (6:30pm local/11:30pm EST). UNC is 15-3 in six previous tournament appearances.