CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams has been known to jump around with his players in the locker room following a big win for the Tar Heels.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday after No. 13 UNC earned a 73-69 victory over Wake Forest in the ACC opener for both teams.
The game left Williams in a frustrated state similar to the last time UNC played at home — in a stunning 79-75 loss to Wofford last week.
“It’s not a great positive message to them in the locker room,” Williams said, “because by golly, we’ve got to play smarter and we’ve got to play harder.”
Joel Berry II hit a high-arcing floater in the paint with 10.3 seconds left and the Tar Heels (12-2, 1-0 ACC) closed the game with an 8-0 run to rally past the Demon Deacons (7-6, 0-1).
UNC led by 10 points midway through the second half after a steal and dunk by Kenny Williams, but didn’t hold that margin. The Demon Deacons, who shot 50 percent in the second half, answered with a 13-3 run to take a 69-65 lead in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
“Wake Forest, I thought, was much more aggressive than we were,” Williams said. “We did not have the intensity level that Wake did. We didn’t use our brain. Some of our best players — Joel and Luke (Maye) — turned the ball over crazy down there.
“I told (Wake Forest coach) Danny (Manning), and I really believe it, we were the lucky team. We weren’t necessarily the best team.”
Wake Forest knocked down 11 three-pointers and had several open lanes to the basket throughout the contest.
“We’re just letting people get too many layups,” said senior forward Theo Pinson. “We gave people that we said (could shoot) on the scouting report open 3s. They knocked them down and made us pay. Little stuff like that we have to correct.”
The Tar Heels also struggled with their bench play beyond sixth-man Cameron Johnson, who logged 11 points in a reserve role. The rest of UNC’s reserves combined for two points, four rebounds and three turnovers with none playing more than eight minutes.
“They’ve got to play a heck of a lot better,” Williams said of his bench. “Cam’s the only one that got in and did a thing off the bench.”
Luke Maye logged a double-double with 17 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels, while Berry added 16. UNC shot just 40 percent from the field, but helped itself with a 49-34 rebounding advantage and 16 second-chance points.
After finding Maye for an easy layup to trim the Wake Forest lead to two points, Pinson hit a pair of free throws with 51.4 seconds left to tie the game at 69. Pinson — who finished with eight points, seven rebounds and six assists — said Williams told the team at the 1:59 mark to “just stay poised.”
“We got the stops,” Pinson said. “We came down and made plays at the end. That was the biggest thing for us.”
After a missed Wake Forest free throw, Berry drove and floated the go-ahead bucket over the reach of 7-foot-1 shot blocker Doral Moore.
“That guy’s 7-1 and he has a long wingspan,” Berry said of Moore. “Soon as I saw him coming over, I knew I had to get it high or he was going to block it. I did a pretty good job of doing that — higher than usual, but it went in.”
Following Berry’s bucket, Keyshawn Woods launched a 3-pointer in an attempt to go for the win but it caromed off the rim. Kenny Williams was there for the rebound and hit a pair of free throws with 1.3 seconds left to seal the victory.
“I wanted anybody to be aggressive and put their man on their heels,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said of Woods’ shot. “He’s made shots like that before. I thought it was online from where I was at and then it kind of drifted to the left.”
Bryant Crawford scored 17 points to lead the Demon Deacons, including a runner with 2:23 left to give Wake Forest a four-point lead.
But Williams chose to play the dominant five-out lineup at the end of both halves because he “trusted them more,” and it locked down the win for the Tar Heels.
Still, the so-called death lineup didn’t meet Williams’ approval. Three of UNC’s top players — Berry, Maye and Pinson — led the team with three turnovers each in the game.
“We went with experience more at the end,” Williams said. ”. … I wish I had a lineup that I liked, because I did not see one out there.”
Moore — who bothered the Tar Heels in the paint to finish with five blocks — missed the front end of a 1-and-1 chance at the charity stripe with 34.1 seconds left in a tie game.
The teams shot a combined 17-of-41 from the field in the first half and UNC carried a 35-30 into the locker room.
Wake Forest will host Syracuse on Wednesday, with the Tar Heels set to travel to No. 24 Florida State.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.