Throwing a Knockout Punch

Throwing a Knockout Punch

107-56. That was fun. It’s hard to remember a more thorough and convincing beatdown of an ACC opponent during the Williams era. The 51-point margin of victory is the highest against a conference team since Roy’s returned to Chapel Hill. And, according to my “performance above expectation” metric (see here and here for more on it), this was Carolina’s second-best ACC showing of Williams’s tenure. The Heels were nearly 42 points / 100 possessions better than the teams’ season-to-date Pomeroy rankings would predict. It’s just the seventh time under Williams that UNC’s been at least 30 points / 100 better than expected versus an ACC foe:

  1. @UNC 99, Virginia 54 in 2006: +45.60
  2. @UNC 107, NC State 56 in 2017: +41.88
  3. UNC 95, @NC State 71 in 2006: +37.26
  4. UNC 106, @Boston College 74 in 2011: +36.54
  5. UNC 81, @Georgia Tech 49 in 2015: +35.51
  6. UNC 78, Notre Dame 47 in 2016 (ACC Tournament): +31.73
  7. @UNC 92, Virginia Tech 53 in 2008: +30.92

And, although UNC’s 20-0 run to push the lead to 26-4 wasn’t actually the Heels’ largest (they had a 22-0 run in the second half to extend the advantage from 77-48 to 99-48; any historians know if  Carolina has ever had multiple 20-0 spurts in a single game?), it was clearly the knockout blow from which the ‘Pack would not recover. It happened pretty quickly—21 possessions (11 by UNC, 10 by NC State) over about 5:20 of game time (from 16:55 to 11:35 in the first half)—and, before NC State knew what hit it, the Heels had a 22-point lead and were cruising to a historic rout. Let’s break down those 21 decisive possessions one-by-one:

  • UNC1 (8-4): After an Abdul-Malik Abu tip-in over Isaiah Hicks (who he bullied under the rim with sheer strength) cut UNC’s lead to 6-4, Joel Berry (who had already gone coast-to-coast for an earlier transition lay-up) would get to work again. He turned down a Hicks ball screen in the secondary break, opting instead to drive left (from the left wing) on Dennis Smith. Smith, anticipating the screen, was beaten off the bounce by Berry and forced to foul. The nearly-automatic Berry (he has a current streak of 15 straight made FTs, following a streak of 26 earlier in the season) converted both free throws to push the lead to 8-4.
  • NCSU1 (8-4): After pounding the ball himself for 12 seconds, Smith missed a contested mid-range jumper off the dribble. Berry’s challenge forced Smith to fade away on the shot and, while he can make this shot, it was undoubtedly a bad NC State possession (no one but Smith touched the ball). Justin Jackson grabbed the rebound to finish the defensive possession for the Heels.
  • UNC2 (11-4): Following Berry drawing another (non-shooting) foul with secondary break penetration, the Heels would inbound the ball from the baseline. UNC ran its freelance motion BLOB, and Berry entered the ball to Kennedy Meeks in the right short corner (an unusual spot for a BLOB entry due to how compressed/shaded to the ball-side State’s defense was). Meeks immediately kicked it to a wide-open Kenny Williams on the right wing for a made 3-pointer—another high-basketball IQ play by Meeks, who didn’t hesitate on this delivery at all.
  • NCSU2 (11-4): Smith again over-dribbled at the top of the key before, a full 10 seconds into the possession, finally deciding to give the ball up. He made a lazy high-post entry pass to Omer Yurtseven, enabling Meeks (nimble feet for a big man!) to sneak around for the deflection and steal.
  • UNC3 (14-4): Meeks immediately turned this live-ball turnover into a primary-break bucket. He deftly went coast-to-coast for a lay-up, powering through Smith, who committed his second early foul, in the process. It was Meeks’s team-leading eighth “and-1” of the season and, for just the third time, he completed it with a made free throw.
  • NCSU3 (14-4): With Markell Johnson now running the point for the ‘Pack with Smith on the bench with foul issues, NC State ran a set to create a look for Terry Henderson. Williams took a bit of a bad (high) angle fighting around the screen, allowing Henderson to penetrate after receiving the ball in the right corner. A good help rotation by Hicks forced Henderson to give it up to Abu, and Berry’s help-the-helper rotation caused a deflection and near-turnover. Abu, however, was able to kick out to the perimeter, allowing NC State to swing the ball for a lightly contested left corner 3 for Torin Dorn (with Meeks working hard to close out late). Abu out-battled Hicks again for the offensive rebound, falling to the floor to ultimately  corral it. Pressure (and floor burns) by Jackson, Meeks, and Williams caused Abu to throw the ball into the backcourt for another NC State turnover.
  • UNC4 (14-4): UNC’s first of three empty trips during the run, this one was still defined by really good offensive execution. The Heels ran the “elevator doors” option for Williams out of their box set. With Williams well-defended on the initial option, Berry opted to hit Jackson in the left corner before exchanging with Williams (who never stopped moving) on the left wing. Williams received the pass from Jackson before missing a lightly contested 3 from the wing. Despite not scoring, Carolina created a good luck even though its primary option was taken away.
  • NCSU4 (14-4): NC State ran Johnson off of a UCLA cut on the left elbow, feeding him on the left block. Berry defended the cut well, forcing Johnson to back the ball out and settle for a contested left corner 3-pointer. Hicks grabbed the airball (aided by a superb Williams box-out) to hold the ‘Pack to only one shot.
  • UNC5 (14-4): On the ensuing secondary break, Berry fed Meeks (good entry angle, and well-delivered pass), who had established deep post position on the right block. Meeks drop-stepped to get right to the rim, only to have his shot contested by Yurtseven’s length. This showcased the good (ability to carve out space in the paint, quick feet to get to the rim) and bad (inability to finish against length) of Meeks’s post game. It probably would have been a dunk for Brice Johnson last year and, despite the miss, this is the type of look that Roy Williams will take an every single possession.
  • NCSU5 (14-4): Abu received a post entry on the right block, then powered up against Hicks. The 6’9″ senior from Oxford was up for the challenge, however, blocking the shot after forming a textbook defensive wall. Though there were many to choose from, this may have been my favorite defensive play of the game, as it demonstrated how Hicks can use fundamental soundness to avoid fouls while still impacting the game with his athleticism.
  • UNC6 (16-4): Berry grabbed the loose-ball rebound following Hicks’s rejection and turned it into a primary break opportunity. He dropped a perfectly-timed bounce pass to Williams for the quick transition score.

NC State called a timeout after this transition hoop, halfway through the 20-0 run (it clearly didn’t work). Carolina checked in Britt and Maye for Williams and Hicks during the stoppage of play.

  • NCSU6 (16-4): After good ball pressure by Berry caused NC State some difficulty getting into its offense, the ‘Pack finally set up a pick-and-roll between Maverick Rowan and BeeJay Anya with 10 seconds left on the clock. Berry and Meeks switched the screen, forcing Rowan to find Abu for a contested 17-footer.
  • UNC7 (19-4): Berry boarded the air-balled Abu jumper, pushing the ball back the other way. Maye and Meeks both beat the State bigs (Anya and Abu) down the court, forcing Wolfpack wing Rowan to help defend the paint in transition. This allowed his man, Justin Jackson, to step into a wide-open transition 3 at the top of the key. Berry delivered the pass perfectly, and Jackson knocked down his 99th career 3 (he’d end the game with 104) to stretch the lead to 15.
  • NCSU7 (19-4): Soon after Britt checked in, NC State ran Henderson off another screen and isolated him against the smaller Heel on the right wing. He beat Britt off the bounce to the baseline, drawing a shooting foul in the process. Luckily for UNC, Henderson missed both free throws (State made just 3-of-11 foul shots in the game—the type of aberrations a team generally needs on its way to a record-breaking victory margin).

Between foul shots, Theo Pinson checked into the game to a raucous standing ovation from the Smith Center fans. He replaced Jackson at the 3, where he’d play almost all of his minutes in his return to action off the bench (although he’d also play brief stints at both the 2 and the 4 in this game).

  • UNC8 (19-4): Immediately upon Pinson’s arrival on the floor, chaos ensued as both he and Britt ran to the left wing in secondary (with no one on the right side of the court). Berry threw it off Britt’s back for UNC’s first turnover of the game after 14 clean possessions. Not sure what Britt was doing here, as the 2 generally fills the right wing in the secondary break (and he and Pinson were aligned accordingly on the second free throw). This wasn’t a huge deal, but it’s the type of possession that Carolina can’t afford to give away in closer contests.
  • NCSU8 (19-4): NC State fed Anya on the left block against Meeks, and the massive Wolfpacker immediately tried to back him down. Meeks held his ground well to force a really tough, off-balance hook shot which was rebounded by Pinson.
  • UNC9 (21-4): Pinson pushed the ball hard himself and, although it didn’t lead to early offense, it did showcase another dimension that he’ll bring to the table to help the Heels’ transition game. UNC got into its freelance motion, and Meeks was posting hard on Anya for about 15 seconds before Pinson entered the ball to him on the right block. Not having good, deep position, Meeks faced up the larger, slower defender and attacked him with the dribble. That led to a fall-away jumper from about 11 feet, which he converted while also drawing a foul (his ninth “and-1” of the year). He’d miss the free throw.
  • NCSU9 (21-4): Sensing the game slipping away, Gottfried checked Smith, his star freshman PG, back into the game. After getting switched onto Smith on a guard-to-guard exchange, Britt allowed penetration after gambling for a steal on a wing overplay. Maye made a timely help rotation to force Smith to kick it back to Yurtseven for an elbow jumper (with Berry and a hustling help-and-recover Maye closing out). This was a decent look for NC State, but a Yurtseven 16-footer is a vastly superior option for UNC than having Smith get to the rim. Anya outfought Meeks to grab the offensive board, then Pinson committed a reach-in (non-shooting) foul. Bradley checked in for a tired Meeks at the whistle, and promptly helped to force an NC State BLOB entry turnover with his length/pressure on the ball. Anya’s lack of mobility as a receiver also contributed to this miscue, as it was largely unforced by UNC.
  • UNC10 (23-4): Protecting Smith with two fouls, NC State switched to its first possession of zone in the game. Pinson quickly located Maye in the high post, who confidently stroked a 17-foot catch-and-shoot jumper from near the right elbow.
  • NCSU10 (23-4): NC State used a (right) side ball screen from Yurtseven for Smith on its next possession. Maye flat-hedged on Smith, allowing Berry time to recover and somewhat contain the explosive Smith off the dribble. The State star was able to drive deep into the paint, drawing help from both Bradley and a recovering Maye. Smith left his feet with nowhere to go, but was able to hook around an athletic pass to Anya on the right block. Britt, scraping down for his help-the-helper rotation, was able to get a hand on the pass and ultimately come up with the steal. A big with better hands could have caught this pass for an easy lay-up, but the help rotations throughout this defensive possession made both the Smith pass and Anya catch high-degree-of-difficulty ones. Anya fouled Britt immediately after the steal.
  • UNC11 (26-4): State was in its zone again, this time looking fairly confused (lots of finger-pointing) by UNC’s ball and player movement. The result was a wide-open Pinson 3-pointer from the top of the key. His game jumper looked a little rusty, clanging hard off the back iron. Maye was about to corral a contested offensive rebound, immediately locating Berry on the right wing for a second-chance 3-pointer. Berry, who loves the right wing (now 12-23 on 3s from that spot this season) cashed in to cap off the Heels’ 20-0 run. This was a quintessential Maye possession, as his movement and energy played a key role: he first received the ball in the short corner, then skipped to to the top of the key; Maye then flashed to the right high post to occupy a defender and free Pinson for his 3 attempt, before finally crashing the glass to capture the rebound (and set up his assist).

Smith would end the run on NC State’s next possession after hitting a tough isolation 3-pointer over Berry using a series of foot fakes. But, in vintage Joel Berry style, he’d answer the Smith 3 with one of his own on the very next trip. Spotting up in the left corner against the ‘Pack’s zone, he received the ball following some crisp Britt-to-Pinson-to-Berry around-the-horn movement. Another favorite part of the court, Berry’s now 5-of-8 on left corner 3s this season. He did some woofing at the State bench and crowd, too, after this one—and the score prompted another Gottfried timeout. In their first three possessions against the NC State zone, the Heels scored eight points.

Following this 20-0 run to push the margin to 22, the Wolfpack wouldn’t cut the lead under 20 the rest of the way. While it won’t always be this easy for Carolina, the ability to deliver a well-timed knockout punch and score points in spurts will pay dividends all season long.


3 thoughts on “Throwing a Knockout Punch

  1. Love this site! Nice comments about the little things that Maye does while on the court.

    Adrian, am I correct in thinking that Maye is one of our better screeners?

  2. Carolina’s largest-ever win was over Manhattan in December 1985. The final was 129-45, so it seems probable that the Heels had at least a couple of 20-point runs in that one.

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