CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – With 43 seconds left in North Carolina's heavyweight matchup with Kentucky on Saturday night, the Tar Heels found themselves up 100-98 and with the ball in hand and a full shot clock. Junior wing Justin Jackson had just missed a free throw to potentially put Roy Williams’s side up by three, but forward Luke Maye tipped the ball into UNC’s backcourt to secure another possession.
Junior guard Joel Berry decided to attack the rim in hopes of putting the Tar Heels up by two possessions. His layup attempt fell short with 25 seconds left on the clock, which led to a quick turnaround for the Wildcats as Malik Monk nailed a three pointer, which gave him 47 points on the night, to put UK up by one.
UNC assistant coach C.B McGrath says he has no regrets on how the end of the game situation was handled.
“We had the ball in Joel Berry’s hands, which is what we want,” McGrath said while filling in on Roy Williams’s radio show on Monday, as the head coach was away from Chapel Hill recruiting. “He drove in there, he got bumped a little bit, got off balance and didn’t shoot as good a shot as I think he normally would have. I don’t think it was a foul by any means, but sometimes you get bumped and get off balance.”
McGrath says that Berry getting knocked off balance is what eventually led to Monk getting the edge in transition to sink the game-winning three.
“He ended up being out of bounds on the baseline and they get the rebound and head the other way and we had bad matchups,” McGrath said. “Then that left Isaiah (Hicks) on Malik Monk and he made the three.”
Monk's three came with 16.7 seconds left, plenty of time for the Tar Heels to strike back. Williams decided to hold on to his two timeouts and let his team play it out. Berry brought the ball down court and passed it into Hicks, who missed a contested turnaround jumper with four seconds left to seal UNC’s fate.
Just like the possession beforehand, the UNC coaching staff was pleased with the play, just not the finish.
“We get the ball to Isaiah and he makes a move and shoots a turnaround and just didn’t make the shot,” McGrath said. “We didn’t have any problems with what happened.”
With the veteran leadership present on this year’s team, McGrath says that sometimes they’ve just got to let the players play and trust it goes their way.
“Ball in Joel’s hands, ball in Isaiah’s hands, we’ll take that every time. It just didn’t work out this time.”
ADDITIONAL QUOTES (C.B. McGrath)
I know that Kentucky game left a sour taste in UNC’s players', coaches', and fans' mouths because you came up just a little bit short?
“Yeah, obviously it was a great game if you were just watching and didn’t care who won. It was fun to be a part of, the back and forth. The kids just made some big plays, I liked watching them compete. There were a few plays where I wasn’t sure how we’d come back and I kept looking up and we’d be coming back. We finally took the lead late and just didn’t make the plays down the stretch like we wanted to. They had a guy make a few shots.”
Malik Monk’s 47-point performance has to be one of the most impressive you’ve ever seen in your coaching tenure--
“Nobody has scored more than that… It was pretty darn impressive. Justin Jackson had a great performance and obviously if Malik Monk didn’t have the performance he did then we’d all be talking about Justin Jackson, not Malik Monk.”
Did you feel like you at least made him make some tough shots throughout the game?
“I mean we made him make some tough shots, obviously we want them to be tougher… He’s tough to guard when he’s on. We recruited him a little bit and I saw him play really, really good and really, really bad. So I was hoping the bad Malik Monk would show up and he did not.”
Justin Jackson had a career-high 34 points. Just a spectacular offensive performance by him.
“Yeah, he did a little bit of everything. He’s had games this year when he made the three and didn’t do anything else. He had games where he didn’t make the threes but scored a lot of points. He took to the basket and got fouled. That’s the most free throws he’s ever shot as a Tar Heel. So he was being aggressive and that’s what we want from Justin. If he could have made one more basket or made one more shot than that would have been really good.”
How did you feel like Joel Berry responded after being out for two games?
“Obviously he played another good game. We expect a lot out of Joel. Even though he had been out and we were expecting him to be a little rusty, he came in and did the things that he normally does. He just sets a tone for us and I think everybody gets confidence from him when he’s out there. He’s tough, he’s going to attack from the get-go. He got in foul trouble and got some silly ones, so that makes you less aggressive… He did a relatively good job. I don’t think he could pick up and pressure like he had in the past just because the ankle is not totally 100-percent yet. Without him, I don’t know what the game would have been like.”
How big of a concern is foul trouble down in the post? That’s three games in a row Isaiah has had four or five fouls in a game.
“Isaiah has always been foul prone since he’s been here. He started off the season doing well and not getting in those situations…. Obviously we want him to stay out of foul trouble because we want him to stay on the court, but Luke Maye did a great job making a couple of threes and scoring 11 points, so we had some other guys step up. We want everybody at all times to be available to play.”
Luke Maye did come in and hit two big three-pointers that cut the game from a ten-point deficit to a four-point deficit. He also had the tip out on Justin Jackson’s missed free throw that was almost the most important play in the ballgame.
“I agree. That was a great play by Luke. Coach talks about it all the time, just hustling, and obviously he had no chance to get it but just tipping it and we outnumbered them because we weren’t all on the free throw line. We ended up with the ball and wish it had worked out differently, but that was a huge play.”
A lot of people were wondering why Coach Williams didn’t call a timeout near the end of the game, but he has a very set strategy in regards to timeouts, correct?
“Yeah. He says there was about seven seconds left in the game, which there was more than that. He’s not going to call a timeout because then they can set up their defense and do exactly what they want to do. They might double team Joel Berry and get it out of his hands. If Coach feels comfortable and he’s got the ball in the right people’s hands… we can call any play we have in our playbook. We don’t need to call a timeout to set up a play. If people call a timeout against us, we’re going to do something defensively that we would not have normally done.”