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November 29, 2009

Tar Heels get tested in win against Nevada

CHAPEL HILL - The first thing North Carolina coach Roy Williams did after going through the handshake line following his 600th career win was come back to his bench and shake the hands of each one of his own players.

Then as he gave a speech to the sparse remaining crowd at the Smith Center, he singled out a spectator from the crowd, former Kansas player (and current Washington Wizards executive) Milt Newton, asking him to raise his hand.

"Son," Williams told Newton, "you were there for No. 1."

It was some nice symmetry for Williams, who became the 33rd coach in NCAA Division in history to win 600 games when his 11th-ranked Tar Heels beat Nevada 80-73.

Deon Thompson led the Tar Heels with a career-high 23 points, while Ed Davis had 16 points and 15 rebounds.

Point guard Larry Drew II took care of the ball extremely well, notching 10 assists and just one turnover, and hit a pair of critical 3-pointers late in the game.

Despite the fine individual performances, it was far from an easy win for the Tar Heels (6-1), who found themselves trailing the Wolf Pack (2-3) late in the second half.

Nevada led the game by two with seven minutes remaining before Carolina went on a 7-0 run capped by the first of Drew's 3-point buckets.

When Nevada's Joey Shaw answered with a three, Drew hit another one to give the Heels breathing room again.

But it wasn't just jump shots that changed the game late.

The Tar Heels got tougher on defense and rebounding the ball, leading Williams to say that in the final minutes, it was the most impressed he had been with his team all season.

"It was definitely fun," Thompson said. "We haven't had a close game like that. It was fun to see people go out there and make plays."

The players weren't the only ones fired up.

Williams, who was wearing a sling after undergoing successful shoulder surgery five days earlier, was gesticulating as usual to urge his team on during the home stretch.

He got so into it that he started to experience pain in his shoulder, leading his wife Wanda to come down to the floor to check on him.

"She was concerned," Williams said. "That's the first time she's ever come down to the court like that."

During the back end of the second half especially, Williams made good on his promise to shorten the rotation.

In the Tar Heels' last game, 10 players racked up double-figure minutes, while only six did so in this game - the starters and sophomore center Tyler Zeller.

"He's going to put people in that he feels most comfortable with," said freshman John Henson, a casualty of the playing-time crunch. "It makes you work harder and makes you play harder when you're in because you don't know when you're going to be in again."

After the game, players donned T-shirts commemorating Williams' 600th win, and there was a video presentation hitting the highlights of the coach's last 100 victories.

"I was surprised how fast (600 wins) came up," senior Marcus Ginyard said. "It seemed like yesterday we were doing 500."

Williams also received a framed jersey featuring the No. 600 and signed by all of his players.

Other than having to coach in a sling, it was a pretty good night for Williams.

"Right now, I don't feel too good - my shoulder's hurting," Williams said after the game. "It's a lot of great players, a lot of great assistant coaches. I don't think you'll ever hear Roy Williams say, 'I won 500. I won 600.' I'll say 'we won' this and 'we won' that because that's what I really believe. I've been very lucky."


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