CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Four days after digging an early hole at Indiana, No. 3 North Carolina exploded off the tip with a 20-4 run against Radford and coasted to a 95-50 victory in its first home game in 19 days.
Roy Williams is never one to place too much stock in a game’s opening moments, although that period of time has defined UNC’s success, or lack thereof, in recent weeks. Strong starts in Maui helped the Tar Heels roll past their competition en route to the tournament title, while the Hoosiers jumped out to a 26-9 lead that proved too much to overcome on Wednesday.
On Sunday, UNC removed any doubt of the outcome by the first media timeout and built a 34-9 lead with 9:57 to play before halftime. Kenny Williams, making his fifth start at the off guard spot, ignited the Tar Heels’ offense by scoring a career-high 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting (4-of-4 3FG) less than five minutes into the game. The sophomore wing outscored Radford 14-4 in the first 4:40 of play.
UNC shot 66.6 percent (8-of-12) and averaged 1.82 points per possession over its first 11 in jumping out to its 20-4 lead. Radford had more turnovers (6) than field goal attempts (5) in its first 11 possessions, averaging 0.4 points per trip.
It only took a potential injury to a star player to turn the headlines from a blowout win to something far more concerning for the Tar Heels. Joel Berry fell awkwardly on a drive early in the second half and sprained his left ankle. The severity of the injury is not known at this point in time, although the junior point guard did not return to the game.
"It’s a sprained left ankle, and that’s all they’re calling it," Williams said during his postgame press conference. "That’s all they think it is, but we will take X-rays to make sure."
UNC has already dealt with its share of injuries this season. Junior wing Theo Pinson broke his right foot during preseason practice and is expected to be out several more weeks, while sophomore forward Luke Maye returned to action in Bloomington after missing five games with a mid-ankle sprain.
Pinson expressed optimism after the game that Berry's recovery will be brief.
“I knew what it was, I knew he rolled his ankle," Pinson said. "I could just tell. I’ve know Joel for so long, I could tell the way he was hopping on it that he definitely just rolled his ankle. I know he’ll be alright. He’s a tough kid… I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t play [on Wednesday].”
Four Tar Heels scored in double figures, paced by Williams's career-high 19 points, and three others scored at least eight points in the victory. Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley were effective in the post, combining for 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting.
Shooting from Deep
Berry spent the preseason telling anyone who would listen that this group of Tar Heels would be much more effective shooting the ball from 3-point range. That wasn’t a tall ask, considering that UNC set a school single-season record for the lowest 3-point percentage (32.7) in 2015-16.
The Tar Heels knocked down six of the first 11 3-pointers against Radford and finished at 45 percent from long range (9-of-20). UNC is shooting 38.5 from three through nine games.
Stat of Note
UNC improved to 180-3 under Roy Williams when shooting 50 percent or better. The Tar Heels shot 52.3 percent against the Highlanders.
UNC stays home to welcome Davidson to the Smith Center on Wednesday for a 9pm tip (ESPN2). The Wildcats are 5-1 on the season with wins over Missouri and Arizona State. Their lone loss came against Clemson (95-78) in Orlando on Nov. 17.