WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. The expressions on the faces of North Carolina's players changed completely in 36 hours.
The 17th-ranked Tar Heels ran into the locker room at Joel Coliseum screaming with joy Saturday after a 79-73 victory over No. 16 Wake Forest. Thursday night, they walked off their home court in stunned silence following an overtime loss to top-ranked Duke.
"I said after the Duke game Thursday night I was proud of my team, but for those guys to bounce back like this in such a short time, that is something I'm even more proud of," said first-year North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who won on the road for the first time in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "It's a very happy locker room in there after being a very sad one Thursday night."
The Tar Heels rode the accurate shooting of Melvin Scott early and the inside dominance of Sean May late to a win that snapped a five-game losing streak to Wake Forest.
North Carolina (14-6, 4-5) lost, 83-81 in overtime, Thursday to Duke in a game that didn't end until after 11 p.m. EST. Saturday's 1 p.m. tipoff didn't seem to bother the Tar Heels as they took a 34-18 lead in the opening 121/2 minutes, looking like the fresher team.
Scott had 14 points in that opening run, going 5-for-5 from the field, including all four of his three-point attempts.
"We just came out to play ball and took what the defense gave us," said Scott, who matched his career high with 20 points. "Whatever was going for us, we wanted to keep it going. Tonight, we hung in there, and I think it's us maturing. We've just got to prove we can win close games."
The Demon Deacons (13-6, 4-5), who lost for the sixth time in eight games since opening the season 11-0, held the Tar Heels without a field goal the rest of the half to get to 38-33 at halftime.
Justin Gray hit a three-pointer 45 seconds into the second half to make it a two-point game, and thoughts of the first meeting between these teams -- Wake Forest's 119-114 victory in triple overtime -- came to mind.
North Carolina came right back with a six-point possession when Rashad McCants was fouled intentionally as he scored on an offensive rebound. He made both free throws, and Raymond Felton hit a jumper on the ensuing possession to make it 44-36 with 18:30 left.
"That was less than ideal," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "All it was was a lack of a block out."
Wake Forest couldn't sustain a run as May scored 13 points in the second half, but the Demon Deacons got to 70-68 on a basket by Jamaal Levy with 2:40 left. After an exchange of possessions, Felton, who missed his first five three-point attempts and was 3-for-10 overall, nailed a three with 51 seconds left to make it 73-68.
"I look at the stat sheet and see Raymond Felton had no turnovers," Williams said, "but obviously, his three-pointer was a big-time three-pointer."
May had 18 points and 10 rebounds following his 15-point, 21-rebound effort against Duke, while Felton had 17 points and four assists.
"We've got to remember how we got in the position we were in today," May said. "We played hard the entire game and put ourselves in a position to win. That's what it takes to learn how to win."
Prosser said his team didn't give itself a chance to get in that position.
"The first 10 minutes of the game were really telling," he said. "Carolina came out and ran their stuff well, and we did very little to disrupt that."
Levy and Gray each had 19 points for the Demon Deacons, while freshman point guard Chris Paul had 15 points, seven assists and one turnover.
The loss dropped Wake Forest to 1-4 this season against ranked teams.
"There's something wrong with us, and we've got to hurry up and find it quickly," center Eric Williams said.