Tar Heels fend off Nevada to deliver Williams’ 600th win
November 30, 2009
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Roy Williams’ milestone victories are starting to blend together for No. 11 North Carolina.
The Tar Heels gave their Hall of Fame coach his 600th career win Sunday night, an 80-73 triumph over pesky Nevada behind a career-high 23 points from Deon Thompson.
“We went in the locker room and I was thinking, ‘I was just here,’ and it was for his 500th win,” Thompson said. “Now I’m here for his 600th. It feels like I’ve been here forever, but it’s definitely cool to be part of coach Williams’ history and Carolina history.”
Ed Davis added 16 points, a personal-best 15 rebounds and a pair of momentum-changing blocked shots late for the Tar Heels (6-1).
They endured a lengthy second-half slump before warming up down the stretch with an 11-3 spurt, then hit 4 of 7 free throws in the final minute to dodge Nevada’s upset bid and avoid a letdown two nights before a championship-game rematch with No. 2 Michigan State.
“This is the first time we got into a late-game situation, and we needed to step up and make big plays, and we did,” senior Marcus Ginyard said. “It’s one of those things that you’ve got to go through to learn from, being in a tight game, and making big plays like that.”
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Armon Johnson scored 20 points on 10-of-20 shooting and Luke Babbitt added 15 points and 11 rebounds on 5-of-18 shooting to lead Nevada (2-3). The Wolf Pack shot 41 percent and held the Tar Heels without a field goal for five minutes before missing 10 of their final 14 shots.
“We thought if we played zone and went inside-out and … not let their big guys get easy baskets around the hoop, I thought that’d be to our advantage,” Nevada coach David Carter said.
Things were sticky for a while before Williams became the 33rd coach in Division I history to reach 600 wins. He’s the third-fastest in NCAA history to get there. Williams, who spent 15 years at Kansas before taking over his alma mater in 2003, improved to 600-139 in his 22nd season and became the eighth active coach to hit that milestone.
“I don’t think you’ll ever hear Roy Williams say, ‘I won 500 or I won 600,'” the coach said. “I’d say, ‘We won this, and we won that,’ and that’s really what I believe. I’m not being corny. … I’ve been at two great institutions, I’ve been in places that really are passionate about basketball.”
For a while, that landmark victory seemed like anything but a certainty against a Wolf Pack team playing Game 2 of a three-game, 5,731-mile road swing.
Larry Drew II finished with 12 points and a career-high 10 assists, and hit two 3-pointers 45 seconds apart during the burst that gave the Tar Heels just enough breathing room.
“I just stepped into my shot, did all the things that I worked on over the summer, mechanics-wise,” Drew said. “It felt good from the time it left my hand and it went in, and the second one felt even better.”
Thompson started the decisive burst with a layup through traffic that put North Carolina up 62-61. That also ended the 5-minute string of offensive futility in which the Tar Heels missed eight consecutive shots and their only points came on a pair of free throws by Drew.
Will Graves put North Carolina ahead to stay with a stickback with about 61/2 minutes remaining, Drew followed that with 3s from the left wing and right corner and Thompson capped the run with a turnaround jumper with 31/2 minutes left that gave him a career scoring high and made it 74-67. The Wolf Pack didn’t get closer than five the rest of the way.
Williams wore a sling on his left arm while coaching his first game since having surgery last week to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. But the apparatus didn’t seem to frustrate him nearly as much as the Wolf Pack did in keeping things tight throughout.
Dario Hunt scored 12 points before fouling out in the final moments and Joey Shaw added 11 for Nevada, which was denied its first road win. Two nights earlier, the Wolf Pack lost at Virginia Commonwealth and they still must visit Pacific on Dec. 5 before returning home.
“Before we went on the road, I told them it’s going to be a learning experience and it’s going to prepare us for down the road,” Carter said. “I think we grew up in the last two or three days.”
Ginyard finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting for the Tar Heels, who next face a rematch with the Spartans in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. North Carolina beat them 89-72 last April in Detroit to win its fifth NCAA title.
“I was kind of disappointed when they lost to Florida (on Friday) just because I wanted them to stay at No. 2 when they came here,” Thompson said. “But it doesn’t matter. … I know myself and Ed and the guys who played in that game last year are going to be prepared to play.”