RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina coach Roy Williams doesn’t like to stray from the formula he has known to work all these years, and that includes tinkering with a traditional lineup.
In other words, ol’ Roy isn’t very big on going small.
Yet that’s exactly what was necessary in the Tar Heels’ 85-66 NCAA tournament win on Saturday night over Providence, especially in the first half. The Friars played 12 minutes without their playmaker in Kris Dunn, who sat out because of two fouls. But the Friars still managed to carve up the Tar Heels, taking advantage of mismatches.
North Carolina centers Kennedy Meeks and Joel James were no good at trying to chase Ben Bentil on the perimeter. Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson didn’t have a good defensive matchup against the more versatile Rodney Bullock, either.
Having to sometimes help out on those players allowed Friars guard Kyron Cartwright to be quicker to the spot than Carolina and score seven points in the first half.
After Providence rallied to take a 25-23 lead after trailing by seven, Williams decided to go with Johnson at center and Nate Britt, Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson around him. It made Carolina quicker defensively, allowing them to switch on picks without creating big mismatches.
It also allowed Williams in the second half to keep a bigger defender on Dunn, who scored 10 of his game-high 29 points in the first half. Jackson handled most of that assignment. Pinson also had his turn chasing the 6-foot-4 junior guard, who probably will be an NBA lottery pick in June.
Most important for Williams, the Heels were still able to grab rebounds even without a second post player on the floor. Carolina outrebounded the Friars 42-24 and outscored them 16-1 in second-chance points.
It wasn’t the first time Williams has used a smaller lineup. He has done so intermittently this season depending on the matchup. But what it showed is that the Heels can conform to a different style if they need to win.