By DAVE SKRETTA
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — North Carolina coach Roy Williams treats every defeat a little bit differently, taking into account the opponent, the situation, things that might be going on in school or in life.
How was Williams after the Tar Heels’ loss to Northern Iowa over the weekend?
“I was ticked off,” he said after an 80-69 bounce-back win over Northwestern on Monday night in the CBE Classic semifinals. “I wasn’t going to treat them with kid gloves. We screwed it up.”
They certainly didn’t do that against the Wildcats.
Justin Jackson had 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead a balanced effort for the ninth-ranked Tar Heels, who tumbled from their top spot in the AP poll after that 71-67 loss to the Panthers.
Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry II added 12 points apiece, and Theo Pinson, Isaiah Hicks had Brice Johnson each had 10 as the Tar Heels advanced to play Kansas State for the tournament title.
“Needless to say,” Williams said, “we feel better than we did Saturday.”
Tre Demps led the Wildcats (3-1) with 21 points, including 10 straight for his team during a second-half charge that trimmed North Carolina’s lead to 48-46 with 17:20 left.
“A lot of times the rhythm of the game, especially playing against really good teams, they try to take away the primary offensive guy, and I think that opens up stuff for everybody else,” Demps said. “Things kind of opened up for me in the second half.”
But unlike their game against the Panthers, when the Tar Heels allowed a 29-8 second-half run to put them on the ropes, Jackson and Pinson made sure to close them back down.
Jackson started it off with a basket at the other end, and Pinson knocked down a 3, before Jackson made two foul shots. Nate Britt hit his own 3 moments later, and a basket by Berry capped a 12-2 run that forced Northwestern coach Chris Collins to call timeout.
The Tar Heels stretched their lead to 20 later in the second half before Northwestern made a brief run in the closing minutes, making the final score look a bit more respectable.
Alex Olah contributed 10 points for the Wildcats, while leading scorer Bryant McIntosh — who had a career-best 32 against Columbia — managed 14 points on just 3-for-15 shooting.
The Tar Heels once again played without Marcus Paige, who broke a bone in his right hand on Nov. 3. The senior All-American has been sitting on the North Carolina bench, but the school has yet to indicate when he may be cleared to return to action.
“If we had to have him, we could have played him last week. We don’t have to have him,” Williams said. “We’re trying to be very cautious.”
Besides, they didn’t need his steady hand Monday night. The Tar Heels only committed nine turnovers, a big reason why they were able to answer every Northwestern run.
“We have fighters. I love the guys in the locker room. We’re not going to quit. We’re going to keep coming at you,” Collins said. “I told the guys in the locker room, my main takeaway playing this team the way we did is I really feel we can have a good team.”
One of the biggest criticisms of Jackson has been his assertiveness, something Williams has addressed with the forward on numerous occasions. “I told him, ‘If you’re my biggest worry, we’re in a great situation,'” Williams said. “We’ve talked about aggressiveness a lot with him.”
Northwestern: The Wildcats have won once in five tries against North Carolina. This was the first meeting between the schools since Nov. 29, 1978. … McIntosh added eight assists. … The Wildcats were outrebounded 39-26 by the bigger, longer Tar Heels.
North Carolina: Charles Scott, the first black scholarship athlete to play for the Tar Heels, was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame over the weekend. … Jackson was coming off a career-high 25 points against Northern Iowa. He also had four assists Monday night.
Northwestern takes on Missouri in the tournament’s third-place game.
North Carolina plays Kansas State for its first CBE Classic championship.