CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina coach Roy Williams is certainly known for sharing his thoughts and refusing to be happy with wins in which he feels his team underperformed. Friday night was no different.
Williams addressed a brief press conference, owing largely to the late hour at which the game completed, and wore a scowl following his team’s 77-61 victory over Gardner-Webb.
“None of you guys (the media) had to think it was a very pretty game, and I don’t either,” said Williams. “Do I believe we’re getting better? Yes. Am I ticked off right now? Yes. Am I Scrooge, probably with it being this close to Christmas? Yes. We’ve gotta play better. That’s the bottom line.”
The sides played a hotly-contested first half, in which the teams were tied on five separate occasions and changed the lead on eight. Kareem Reid scored a bucket and a foul to give the Runnin’ Bulldogs their largest lead of the half at 15-11 just over halfway into the period, and a tug-of-war ensued from there. A Cole Anthony triple provided the Tar Heels with their biggest separation at 24-20 at the 5:20 mark.
Carolina (3-0) took a 30-27 advantage to the interval, knocking down just over 41 percent of its first-half tries. The Tar Heels managed to connect on just 1-of-10 tries from distance in the period, but outscored Gardner-Webb in the paint, 22-12.
The tide quickly turned, however, once the second half began. Carolina ripped out to a 9-0 run to start the period, forcing Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft to burn a time out. The Heels kept the momentum rolling, as an Anthony bucket extended the lead to 41-27 with 15:37 to play. The Runnin’ Bulldogs converted on the ensuing possession, as a Kareem Reid bucket broke the second-half seal at the 15:26 mark.
That bucket started a 12-3 Gardner-Webb run, which drew the Runnin’ Bulldogs back within five. Justin Jenkins helped key the run, scoring five of his team’s points during the burst. The sides then again traded punches for several minutes, before a 1-for-7 stretch from Gardner-Webb allowed North Carolina to again extend its advantage into double digits.
The dagger came during that run, however, as Anthony drained a long triple through double coverage with 8:37 remaining. Gardner-Webb (0-3) had knifed the Carolina margin to four, and the shot provided a blow from which the Runnin’ Bulldogs proved incapable of recovering.
“I’m proud of our guys, in terms of our fight defensively,” said Craft. “I thought our mindset and our fight and our will to do the things we needed to do defensively was there tonight, and that was great for us against a good team on the road. We just, offensively, just struggled. That’s been three games in a row for us that we’ve struggled to score, but (there was) a lot to build on for our group.”
The Runnin’ Bulldogs shot 36.8 percent (21-for-57) for the game, despite placing three scorers in double figures. Guard Jose Perez paced Gardner-Webb with 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting, with guards Nate Johnson and Justin Jenkins adding 11 apiece.
Anthony led the Tar Heels and all scorers with 28 points, knocking down 7-of-17 from the field and 11-of-13 from the free throw line. The prized freshman also converted on 3-of-7 three-point tries. Anthony became the first Tar Heel freshman to record 20 points or greater in his first three games at Carolina.
Forward Armando Bacot added a double-double, scoring 12 points and snaring 11 boards. Bacot earned both praise and criticism from his coach after the game.
“We’re trying to be the best team we can be, and we can’t be the best team we can be if he doesn’t play better, if he doesn’t protect the ball inside. We’ve gotta get more out of him,” said Williams.
Gardner-Webb returns to play Tuesday night at Wichita State. That game is slated for an 8:00 (Eastern) tip. North Carolina is off until Wednesday, when it hosts Elon. That game will tip off at 8:30.