Carolina took a school record 35 shots from behind the 3-point line on the way to hitting 37 percent (13-35) for the game, while holding Davidson to 33 percent (9-27), down from their average of 45 percent on the year. The Tar Heels hit only 9-26 field goals from 2-point range on the night in a game that probably had Dean Smith wincing with every long-range shot.
"I felt they were going to pack it in, whether in a zone or man, and we were going to have to make shots," Tar Heel head coach Matt Doherty said. "I felt the shots we took were good shots… I thought we had to take and make shots tonight, and that was going to be one of the deciding factors, besides our defense… We took a lot of 3's, but they were all good shots, and I felt like we had to take open 3's and knock them down."
Senior Will Johnson, who normally comes off the bench, started in place of freshman Rashad McCants to score five points on the night and had a hand in the first six Tar Heel points of the game on a 3-pointer, a free throw, and an assist.
"I guess coach thought I earned it and put me in the line up," the Hickory, N.C. native said. "The end result is all that matters to me. If we win, I'm happy. I was just going out there, being aggressive and playing my game."
McCants came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points for the game on 5-10 shooting (4-8 on 3's), grabbed four rebounds, with two steals, two assists, and a blocked shot. He has scored in double figures every game this season.
"I've got one of the most talented players I've ever coached in Rashad McCants," Doherty said. "He's one of the most gifted kids I've ever had the pleasure of coaching. I just wanted to light a little fire. Will has been playing hard in practice, and I think starting is a reward for effort… I thought Rashad responded very well. He handled it maturely, and I thought he came in and gave us a big lift."
"It didn't matter," McCants said of Doherty's decision to bring him off the bench. "I'm a team player. Just because you don't start doesn't mean you should mope. I've been looking for my spark for a while now. I haven't had it since that Kansas game. I've been thinking about it watching film. I just wanted to come out in practice and play as hard as I can. Whether he thinks his decision lit a spark or a fire or whatever, it probably did, and I respect his decision."
After an early Carolina spurt, Davidson went on an 11-0 run to take a 13-6 lead before the Tar Heels came back to knot the score at 18 apiece.
From that point until halftime, the Tar Heels went on a 28-11 run--the decisive stretch in the game--led by Melvin Scott's three 3-pointers and Jawad Williams' 11 points from the post, behind the arc, and from the free-throw line (6-6). Scott finished the game with 15 points, all from behind the arc, in 28 minutes of play, contrasting some early-season stints of fewer than 10 minutes.
"It felt good," Scott said. "Some day's I'll shoot well, some games I won't. Some games I'll play 30 minutes, some I'll play 10 minutes. You have to be ready, as an athlete. This year has helped me to be patient and humble myself, to be ready when the time comes."
Williams shot only 4-12 on the night but had managed 15 points when the final horn sounded.
"When shots aren't falling, the best thing I can do is get to the line," Williams said, "and I think I did a good job of that tonight."
The sophomore forward remembered what it felt like to lose to this team last year, and he wouldn't allow for any surprises.
"The returning five players, we knew what it was like to lose to Davidson," Williams said, "and we didn't want the freshmen to go through that. We told them how good Davidson is and to come out and play hard."
After leading 46-29 at halftime, the Tar Heels kept the Wildcats at a comfortable distance the rest of the way, never allowing them any closer than 13 points and leading by as many as 21 points before winning 79-64.
Freshman Byron Sanders scored seven points (3-6 FG), one point off of his career high of eight that he scored at Florida State, and grabbed a career high seven rebounds for the second consecutive game, while defending 6-10 Wildcat Michel Lusakueno.
"My confidence is growing every game," Sanders said. "I feel I'm getting better, and I'm feeling more comfortable out there.
"Before the Miami game, [Sean May] called me and told me that I had to get more rebounds--block out and be strong. He said, 'Guys are going to be bigger than you, but you have to be strong.' He told me to finish, that I can't have any more 0-9 games. He tells me the truth, and it helps me. He's honest, like my brother and my family. They tell me the truth--they dog me a lot." (Laughing)
"Byron's defense in the post was exceptional," Doherty said. "He's a physical kid, very conscientious defensively, and I thought he did a very good job. Late in the game, they went inside. I don't think Lusakueno had easy baskets, but they realized we weren't doubling down… Byron did an exceptional job with his post defense, and offensively he's starting to feel a little more confident."
On the night, the Tar Heels put four players in double figures for the third time this season. Raymond Felton was the fourth with 13 points.
With the victory, UNC exceeds its victory total from last year, at 9-4, just 13 games into the season, but Jawad Williams and the Tar Heels aren't resting on their laurels.
"There are a lot more wins I still want to get."
This team's next opportunity for a win comes this Saturday at noon in Charlottesville against the Virginia Cavaliers.