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November 15, 2013

Tar Heels surge past Crusaders

CHAPEL HILL--- It was a decidedly different first half from last week's season opener Friday night as North Carolina went into halftime tied 25-25 with Holy Cross, and it was pretty unsettling for the Smith Center faithful as they watched the Crusaders take the lead early in the second half.

The Tar Heels would take control over the final 15 minutes on the way to a 62-54 triumph, but the vibe in the storied arena wasn't nearly as good as last week when UNC dominated Oakland in its season opener.

Sophomore guard Marcus Paige led three Tar Heels in double figures in scoring with 23 points, while sophomore forward Brice Johnson added 12 points and junior forward James Michael McAdoo 11 points.

The 23 points were a new career high for Paige, and led all scorers in the game. His previous career high was 19 points last February against Virginia Tech.

Paige, who played 36 minutes for UNC, added five rebounds and three assists to help Carolina avoid what would have been a very embarrassing upset loss at the hands of the Crusaders, who went 12-18 just a season ago.

But even in scoring 23 points, Paige was just three-of-eight from three-point range on a night where the Tar Heels were just three-of-10 from behind the arc.

But a win is a win, and the Tar Heels are now 2-0 heading into Sunday's third regular season game, back in the Smith Center at 4:00 pm against Belmont.

The Tar Heels came out gangbusters early in building a 11-1 advantage, and it looked like they'd run Holy Cross off the court just as they did Oakland a week prior as the Crusaders missed 16 out of its first 18 shot attempts.

But Holy Cross proved to be a worthy foe for the Tar Heels, as they held UNC to just 27.3 percent shooting (9-of-33) in the first half, and went on a 13-2 run to close out the first half to send the game tied into halftime.

Holy Cross briefly led by three points a few minutes into the second half before the Tar Heels finally reeled things in, shooting 51.9 percent over the final 20 minutes (14-of-27) while committing only nine turnovers over the course of the whole game.

After Holy Cross took a 32-29 lead with 16:39 to play, the Tar Heels went on an 18-3 run over the next 7:10 to build a 47-35 lead.

J.P. Tokoto scored all six of his points in the second half and added seven rebounds and five assists. It was the second time in as many games that he had five assists, which is a career high.

In addition, Kennedy Meeks grabbed a game-high eight rebounds in 13 minutes.

Perhaps the brightest spot for Carolina was the defensive effort, as UNC held Holy Cross to a dismal 29.4 percent shooting clip for the game (15-of-51) while forcing 16 turnovers and allowing the Crusaders just nine assists all night.

But while this game goes in the win column for the Tar Heels, there was a lot left to be desired.

UNC allowed Holy Cross to nearly out-rebound them, as the teams each had eight offensive rebounds, and Carolina got 31 defensive boards to Holy Cross's 30.

Holy Cross also out-performed UNC from the free throw line which is a rarity for the Tar Heels, especially in a home non-conference contest.

Not only did the Crusaders attempt more free throws (26 to UNC's 18), they made more, sinking 19 free throws compared to Carolina's 13.

What is more, Holy Cross seemed to dictate the pace for much of the game, slowing down the action and keeping UNC from wearing them out with its speed and depth.

For these reasons and more Holy Cross was close enough to start fouling UNC in the final minute, forcing them to seal the game up from the charity stripe.

To its credit, UNC did what it had to do to ensure victory, but playing for the second straight game without trusted perimeter veterans Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston, the Tar Heels showed there's still plenty of kinks to be worked out before they start playing some big-time opposition in the coming weeks, including national powers Michigan State, Kentucky, and quite possibly Louisville.


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