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After a nine-day layoff for exams, North Carolina “sneaked by” (to borrow Roy Williams’ summary) a plucky Yale squad 70–67 on Monday night. The win gives Roy Williams 879 in his career, tying him with legendary UNC coach Dean Smith for fourth place in NCAA history.
Williams actually has a better overall winning percentage than his mentor upon reaching this milestone, as Smith finished with a total record of 879-254 (.776) while Williams presently stands at 879-239 (.786), including a 461-138 (.770) mark at UNC.
Williams wasn’t in the mood to celebrate the milestone after the game, however, as freshman guard Anthony Harris suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee while driving to the basket late in the game.
“The only thing I’m thinking about right now is that young man,” Williams explained. “He’s just a tough little nut who has worked his tail off to get back in this position.”
Harris had just returned to action after tearing his left ACL in December of last year, which cost him the remainder of his senior high school season and was the reason he sat out the first seven games of this season. Harris also missed the first part of the 2017–18 season with a fractured kneecap.
UNC will not provide any updates on Harris’ status until Friday’s press conference, but given the way the knee buckled, it’s difficult to have much optimism at this point.
Injuries have been the theme of the season for the Tar Heels. Cole Anthony continues to sit out after meniscus surgery, and Andrew Platek sat out against Yale with an ankle injury. Sterling Manley is out for the season after knee surgery. Other players to miss time with injuries so far include Brandon Robinson, Leaky Black, and Armando Bacot.
SHOOTING WOES CONTINUE
The secondary theme for Carolina so far this season has been poor shooting, as the Tar Heels exit nonconference play shooting .401 from the field (321st nationally) and an ice-cold .299 from 3-point range (320th). Lest one imagine that these shooting numbers are influenced by great defensive opponents, Carolina’s free-throw shooting is remarkably consistent with its other shooting numbers, as the Heels rank 320th in the nation with a .641 mark from the line. Carolina has yet to score over 80 points this season, the longest such drought to open a season in Williams’ tenure at UNC.
Moreover, the poor situational play and decision-making that have plagued the Heels all season reemerged late in the game as Yale took advantage of a foul on a 3-point shooter, a key three-point play, and a missed front end of a one-and-one to climb back from a 12-point deficit with six minutes left to miss a potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer.
Carolina survived thanks to maximizing its number of possessions by taking care of the basketball (matching a season-low eight turnovers) and dominating the glass, outrebounding Yale 48-34 and limiting the Bulldogs to a single offensive rebound on 37 missed shots.
Those elements will continue to be even more important than usual as Carolina enters Atlantic Coast Conference play. The expected return of Anthony in mid-January should provide a much-needed offensive boost, but if this team is to make the NCAA Tournament, it’ll need to do so with grit, defense and rebounding.
FOOTBALL ALL STARS
North Carolina has five signees who will be participating in postseason national all-star games this week, giving fans and recruiting experts the opportunity to see them compete against other top competition. Defensive ends Desmond Evans (Sanford) and Myles Murphy (Greensboro) will play in Thursday’s Under Armour All-America Game, which will be televised at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
Receiver Josh Downs (Suwanee, Georgia), safety Ja’Quarious Conley (Jacksonville), and defensive tackle Clyde Pinder Jr. (Seffner, Florida) will play in the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, which will be broadcast Saturday at noon on NBC.
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK
1. Carolina has limited two of the last three opponents (Yale and Gonzaga) to one offensive rebound; those two games represent the lowest opponent offensive rebounding rates allowed in 599 games of the Roy Williams era.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.