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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Seventh Woods scored a career-high 14 points and was solely responsible for a big run at the end of the first half of No. 12 North Carolina’s 103-90 win over No. 4 Gonzaga on Saturday.
More than five years after Woods was heralded as basketball’s next big thing, there’s only one word to describe this moment for him: finally.
Woods exploded onto the scene as a freshman in high school, mercilessly dunking on people at age 14. In terms of internet fame, he was Zion Williamson before anyone had heard that name. His YouTube mixtape has more than 15 million views.
However, he was such a non-factor in his first two seasons at North Carolina that if you Google “Seventh Woods” and scroll down to the related searches, the top result is, “What happened to Seventh Woods?”
Stuck behind both Joel Berry II and Nate Britt on the depth chart, Woods averaged just 1.5 points per game as a freshman. During an injury-plagued sophomore year, his scoring averaged dipped to 1.1.
With Berry out of the picture, this was supposed to be his year to shine. Instead, Roy Williams has been starting freshman Coby White since day one, relegating Seventh to the seventh man in the rotation.
But we always knew he was capable of performances like these.
So did he.
And this may have just been the beginning of a resurgence story for the ages.
“I’ve still got a lot more to show,” said Woods after the win. “Tonight, I had 14 points. I’m still not satisfied with that. I’m a great player. I’m just trying to show it.”
“I can play at the highest level and compete,” he added. “I can be what this team needs me to be.”
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Woods scored the final eight points of the first half for the Tar Heels. At intermission, he was 5-of-5 from the field and already had a career-high 11 points. (He ended up with six made field goals, doubling his previous personal best. Woods also made two three-pointers, after connecting on just three in his first 67 games.)
Not only did he score the last eight points before the half, but he also looked fluid and confident, creating each bucket off the dribble without an assist. The first was a jumper from just inside the three-point arc. The next two were acrobatic finishes near the rim. And on the last one, he grabbed a defensive rebound, brought it up the court and waited until a few seconds remained before he knifed into the lane for a floater that found its mark.
It’s poetic that he dominated for those two minutes and 35 seconds, since that’s the length of the mixtape that made him so popular in the first place.
“That was so big going into halftime,” said senior guard Kenny Williams. “It got us the momentum going into halftime. Sev went on a little run. We got our lead back up to 14, and that was all him.”
Though we haven’t seen the highlight-reel dunks of yesteryear, Woods has already proved plenty capable of doing all the other things the team needs from its secondary point guard. He came into the game averaging an outrageous 11.2 assists per 40 minutes, as well as 3.2 steals per 40—both of which are easily the highest marks among the 10 regulars.
But at 3.6 points per game (8.8 per 40), he wasn’t forcing opponents to respect his scoring ability.
That should change in a big way after he flashed his potential as a legitimate two-way combo guard against the Zags.
“I know I can score the ball,” said Woods. “I just need the opportunities to do it. I went into the game confident.”
Woods was only one piece of the puzzle Saturday. Cam Johnson was unconscious from three-point range, finishing with a game-high 25 points. Luke Maye did his usual double-double thing, racking up 20 points and 16 rebounds. Garrison Brooks had a strong nine points and nine rebounds in spite of foul trouble. And though White didn’t have the most efficient outing of his career, he had 15 points, six assists and an unofficial count of eight broken ankles on crossovers and jab steps.
When Woods fits into the mix like this, though, North Carolina feels like the team to beat.
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I know. I know. Michigan mashed UNC a few weeks ago, and the Heels lost to Texas not long before that. They entered this game ranked outside the Top 10 for a reason, and there’s no point in making any grandiose proclamations about their championship potential until they’ve played some of those ACC games against the likes of Duke and Virginia.
And yet, we’ve already spent a good chunk of this season wondering why Nassir Little—one of the top recruits in the 2018 class and a virtual lock to become a 2019 lottery pick—is coming off the bench. Add to that sixth-man debate another reserve who’s tapping into his potential as a former viral sensation, and you’ve got one heck of a team capable of making Gonzaga look lost in a marquee game.
Woods still isn’t a starter. He might never be the superstar we were promised more than five years ago. But he has settled nicely into a key role on an excellent team.
If he keeps thriving, the ceiling is the roof.
Kerry Miller covers men’s college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.