CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Amid all the tributes to Dean Smith since the coaching legend’s death, North Carolina coach Roy Williams and his No. 15 Tar Heels saved possibly the most fitting one for Saturday.
With Williams and players on the bench holding up four fingers, his team ran the “Four Corners” offense Smith made famous while coaching here and scored on their first possession — a sign of how smoothly things would run in an 89-60 rout of Georgia Tech.
“I think he knows that I honor him,” said Williams, a former Smith assistant. “And knows that for 64 years I’ve tried to make him proud. That was just a way of Roy Williams saying, ‘Thank you.'”
Smith was known for using the Four Corners to spread the floor and work the clock, which ultimately helped lead to the implementation of a shot clock in college basketball. The retired Hall of Famer died two weeks ago, but this was UNC’s first home game since his death. There was a pregame moment of silence for Smith and the school has scheduled a public memorial here Sunday.
Williams said the team walked through the play Friday, but only after making sure no one was around to see it.
“I wanted it to be something very sincere from our team … to Coach Dean Smith,” Williams said. “So we didn’t want anybody sending out a daggum Twitter or fax or whatever the dickens we go on today. I wanted it to be something from my team to Coach Smith and that worked out great.”
The play ended with Marcus Paige finding a cutting Brice Johnson for a layup.
“That was one of the most nerve-racking moments of my life just because I feel like if I would’ve turned it over, if I would’ve messed it up or something that I was letting down the way we were going to pay homage to Coach Smith,” Paige said. “I’m just glad Brice caught it and laid it up. He made me look good.”
The Tar Heels (19-8, 9-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) had lost four of five, including Wednesday’s potentially crushing failure to close out No. 4 Duke in an overtime road loss. But they shot a season-high 62 percent with six players in double figures.
Marcus Georges-Hunt scored 15 to lead the Yellow Jackets (12-15, 3-12), who had made a habit of playing close in league losses but couldn’t keep up Saturday.
“We got beat by a superior team today, there’s no question about it, that played at a really high level,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “And I’m OK with that, as long as you compete. And we had some guys that did and unfortunately we didn’t have everybody. And we need everybody.”
Georgia Tech: All but one of its ACC losses had come by seven or fewer points before Saturday. … Quinton Stephens scored 10 points. … The Yellow Jackets trailed by a season-worst 38 points midway through the second half. … Georgia Tech shot 38 percent and was outrebounded 37-29.
UNC: Kennedy Meeks scored a team-high 18 points. … UNC led by 14 at half then blew the game open with a 21-3 spurt. … UNC hadn’t played at home since losing to No. 2 Virginia on Feb. 2. … Freshman guard Joel Berry II sat out with a stomach illness.
Paige regrouped after a rough outing against the Blue Devils. The preseason all-American finished with 13 points and matched his career high with 10 assists to earn his first career double-double. He also had no turnovers in 31 minutes.
While pleased the Four Corners tribute worked, Williams was irked at a home crowd he said was “asleep” most of the day.
“You go on the road and you’re playing and people are screaming like banshees or something,” Williams said. “And today it was like every time I yelled at a player, they turned around and looked at me. … If you want to act like I’m chastising the fans, just tell them to come in and invest.”
Georgia Tech hosts No. 12 Louisville on Monday.
UNC hosts rival North Carolina State on Tuesday.
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