WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – No. 11 North Carolina absorbed a 27-9 second-half run by Wake Forest that cut a 19-point lead to one before hanging on for a 93-87 victory at Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday.
Joel Berry’s layup with 18:06 to play pushed the Tar Heels’ lead to 57-38. Instead of folding, however, the Demon Deacons responded with 10 straight points to keep the crowd involved and gradually cut into their deficit by scoring 27 points over their next 19 possessions.
Wake Forest pulled to within 66-65 with 9:43 to play. UNC answered with a 12-4 run, only to have the Demon Deacons strike back with a 9-2 spurt to initiate a back-and-forth final stretch run.
UNC scored nine points on its final five possessions, including converting all six of its free throws in the final 31 seconds, to secure the victory.
Starting Five Production
UNC’s starting five all scored in double figures and combined to shoot 57.7 percent from the floor (30-of-52). Justin Jackson led the Tar Heels with 19 points – five of which came in the final 63 seconds – while Kennedy Meeks and Berry both contributed 18 points.
Isaiah Hicks scored 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Kenny Williams added 12 points.
“I’ve always felt that if you have everybody on your club that can score, it’s harder to guard you," Roy Williams said during his postgame press conference. "The other team’s defense can’t just focus on one guy."
Freshman center Tony Bradley took a hard fall and hit the back of his head on the court after being fouled with 3:39 remaining in the first half. He appeared woozy while making his way to the locker room and that observation was confirmed when UNC announced he would not return after suffering concussion-like symptoms.
Bradley will be further evaluated by a doctor once the team returns to Chapel Hill. If he is diagnosed with a concussion, he will then enter the school's concussion protocol that includes a series of testing before being released to play again.
Play Call for the 3-Ball
Mitchell Wilbekin’s 3-pointer with 1:29 to play cut UNC’s lead to 84-81. Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning quickly called a timeout, which allowed Williams to set up a play to give Justin Jackson a perimeter look from the wing.
Jackson described the play during his postgame interview: “Coach called ‘box right.’ Nate and Isaiah set big screens for me. I saw Mitoglou kind of step out and hedge a little bit, and then he just left, so I kept on trying to curl and then J.B. hit me right as I was stepping into the shot. It felt good whenever it left my hands.”
Jackson’s 3-pointer gave UNC some breathing room at 87-81 with 1:03 to play.
First Half Runs Turns Tide
Wake Forest jumped out to an 8-0 lead after its first five possessions, energizing the LJVM Coliseum crowd. It only took UNC four minutes to deflate the festive atmosphere, turning its deficit into a 15-11 lead with an 11-0 run capped by a dunk and 3-pointer by Joel Berry on back-to-back possessions.
Later in the half, the Demon Deacons fought back to tie the game at 22-22. The Tar Heels once again flipped the momentum by countering with a 12-2 spurt during a 124-second stretch to take its first double-digit lead of the game.
UNC outscored Wake Forest, 49-26, over the final 17:06 of the first half.
Midway through the first half, Keyshawn Woods’s driving floater missed its mark, and Kennedy Meeks quickly corralled the rebound and passed ahead to Justin Jackson near midcourt on the right sideline. Jackson fired crosscourt to Kenny Williams, who spotted up for a corner 3-ball. When his defender left his feet, Williams dumped the ball inside to Isaiah Hicks for a layup in the secondary break to give UNC a 22-17 lead.
UNC returns home for a matchup with Leonard Hamilton’s red hot Florida State squad on Saturday (2pm/ESPN). The ninth-ranked Seminoles have won 12 in a row, including an impressive 88-72 victory over No. 7 Duke on Tuesday.