CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On a night where none of UNC’s starters could find any rhythm, it was the freshmen who came to the rescue in the Tar Heels’ 73-71 win over Tennessee on Sunday.
Point guard Seventh Woods, wing Brandon Robinson and forward Tony Bradley, who together combined for 22 points and 15 rebounds, all made big plays in the second half to help Roy Williams’s squad rally to avoid the upset.
Woods scored on consecutive fast break layups, one off a steal, to help pull the Tar Heels within one with under six minutes left to play.
Robinson’s moment came with 53 seconds left, as the 6-foot-5 wing tipped in a missed layup by Nate Britt to put UNC up by three and secure a lead the Tar Heels wouldn’t relinquish.
“That turns out to be the biggest play of the game,” Williams said on his radio show on Monday. “We miss the shot and Brandon tips it in. He was quick to raise his hand and make sure everybody knew he tipped it in. That was a big play for us.”
Then there was the game-saving block by Bradley with two seconds remaining to squash any hopes the Volunteers had of overtime. Williams subbed the 6-foot-10 frosh in for Kennedy Meeks with nine seconds to play.
“Tony made the block that Kennedy may have made, but he may have not,” Williams said. “But I know that Tony did, and that was a big play.”
UNC is only a third of its way through the regular season, and already its freshman class is making its presence felt.
What did you see out of Davidson and Tennessee this week?
“Davidson played well. Tennessee really played well. They’re so much better than they were the first game we saw them in Maui. They started to feel their role now, everyone seems to know what they’re doing, and they’re shooting the ball great. The offense they run is very good for us because it’s Davidson and Tennessee back-to-back and they almost do the same thing offensively so that helped us. You couldn’t tell by the way that their shots kept going in the basket.”
How big of a factor was Joel Berry’s absence for your team this week?
“I mean when he went down he was our leading scorer, leading field goal percentage, leading assist man, so it’s big, but the bottom line is North Carolina still has to play. You look and have six of your top eight back from last year, well Marcus (Paige) and Brice (Johnson) left, then we lost Theo, then we lost Joel. Now it’s a little bit of a different story. I thought we would play a little better in both games. When Joel got hurt, I hoped that it wasn’t going to be for a long time, and thought it might be good for Seventh (Woods) and Nate (Britt) to get more playing time. Especially if they’ll be successful with it. It’s been a mixed bag with both of them. Seventh was three for three, but he had three turnovers in eight minutes. Nate had five or six steals, six assists, but he’s 4-22 in the last two games. It’s been a mixed bag. If they would have had more success, I would have thought this would be okay for us, but it’s been a tough thing.”
It’s felt like an odd two games for Nate Britt. He’s struggled from the field, but he had seven assists and those five steals and made big plays to help you win.
“Well early in the second half it was his defense that got us going because they had three or four turnovers in their first six possessions and it goes from an eight-point to a two-point game. He did some good things, but he did some bad things. What you’d like is to do good things and average things. You don’t want to do good and bad; 4-22 is not what you want your point guard to shoot. Nate knows where he’s supposed to be, but he had some troubles in that game defensively.”
Luke Maye had a nice game against Davidson and was part of the second team that you subbed in to get your team going.
“I was a little frustrated with the first group and made that change and I think it was Seventh, and Stilman (White), and Tony, and Brandon. We were down 10-3 or something like that then we went up 11-10 up with those guys. Luke did give us a big plug and we need that out of him. The four big guys are going to play important minutes for us and we need guys. When you come in give us something positive, and Luke did.”
Which player is playing the most consistent defense so far this season?
“Nate’s grades have probably been the most consistent. Joel’s were pretty good as well. Kenny (Williams)’ is probably doing a better job defensively but we’re giving him the toughest assignments sometimes…. I’d say those three guys have been more consistent.”
There’s been a lot of talk about the crowd in the Smith Center this year, but they were really fantastic yesterday.
“I thought they were sensational. Late in the game, it was really, really loud in there. Guys were having trouble hearing me, but I like that and they do too, probably. I thought that they were really helpful to us down the stretch. Two of the last plays Tennessee had, the right guy didn’t get the ball because it was difficult for their bench to talk to the team.”
What’s your opinion of Stilman White’s performances this week?
“He really has. There was a point yesterday where it’s a big point in the game and Stilman is in for us. He makes a shot right inside the three-point line. He doesn’t make mistakes. With Seventh, I’m telling him ‘Stay in front of the ball, don’t turn it over.’ Some of that has gotten through, some it hasn’t, but he’s a freshman. The other day it’s so funny I said ‘Stilman, how long have you been here?’ He goes, ‘Six years.’ I told him that he’s heard everything I could say. No, but he’s been helpful to us.”