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November 17, 2013

Tar Heels drop stunner

CHAPEL HILL--- Coming off a sluggish, lackluster performance in Friday night's victory over Holy Cross, one might have anticipated a different North Carolina team to take the floor Sunday afternoon as the Tar Heels returned to action against Belmont.

But Belmont, despite losing all five of its starters from last year's NCAA Tournament squad, came into the Smith Center confident and poised to give UNC a run for its money.

Belmont did that and then some, building a double-digit second half lead before the Tar Heels rallied to make the game's final ten minutes a down-to-the-wire sprint.

It looked like UNC had things well in hand when they pushed out to a 78-70 lead with 2:37 to go, and had the Bruins putting them on the foul line shortly thereafter.

But in a remarkable late-game collapse, the Tar Heels allowed Belmont to score 13 of the game's final 15 points for a shocking 83-80 victory. It was just the second non-conference home loss of Roy Williams' tenure at North Carolina, and the first since the 2005-2006 season (Illinois).

"Congratulate Rick and his club. They did some really nice things," said Williams immediately afterwards. "I did a poor job coaching. It's on me. I was proud the way they came back against a very good team, but we dug ourselves in a hole with mistakes and missed shots. I didn't do the job down the stretch."

"It's an awfully big win for our kids, and it's a big win for the school. It's a big moment right now for us. And I hope those of you who are local get why it is---because this (UNC) program is so great," added Belmont head coach Rick Byrd.

James Michael McAdoo led the way for UNC with a career-high 27 points and 13 rebounds, one of three Tar Heels in double figures. Marcus Paige had 17 points, while Brice Johnson added 14 points and nine boards.

But in the end, the Tar Heels were left with a sickening feeling of what might have been, and their Hall of Fame coach was all too willing to take all of the blame despite the fact his team missed 26 free throws and allowed Belmont to make a grand total of 15 three-pointers.

"I love those kids in that locker room, and their coach let them down today," Williams said. "I apologized to them (my players after the game)."

Belmont reinforced its reputation as a perimeter-oriented offensive team, as each of its first four field goals early on were from behind the three-point line. In total in the first half the Bruins sank seven three-pointers.

"Their first five games they (Belmont) made 15 threes. But today they came out and hit a couple early, and gained some confidence. We knew they were capable of making threes," said Williams.

The Tar Heels did a nice job getting to the free throw line over the game's first 20 minutes, getting 28 attempts and forcing four different Belmont players to pick up three first half fouls, but UNC did little with its chances as they made a dismal nine free throws (32.1 percent), including a dreadful two-for-12 clip from J.P. Tokoto.

Both teams shot right at 48 percent from the field in the first half, but Belmont's seven three-pointers and eight-of-nine shooting from the free throw line, along with a rally at the end of the half, gave the Bruins a 41-34 halftime advantage.

Though UNC briefly pulled within two once the teams returned to the court in the second half, Belmont actually stretched its lead out to 10 points (52-42) less than four minutes into the final period, and the Bruins just kept on making shots, taking as big as a 55-44 advantage before the Tar Heels started clawing back.

Carolina continued to look for McAdoo for points, and Johnson got into the mix with an emphatic slam dunk and follow-up lay-in to pull UNC within 60-59 with 10:32 to go, forcing a Belmont timeout and giving the Tar Heels eight straight points.

Then Paige made it eleven straight with a three-pointer in the right corner, giving the Tar Heels its first lead of the second half (62-60) and setting off a spirited yell throughout the UNC faithful in the Dean Dome.

After Tokoto made a free throw, McAdoo pushed his scoring total to 23 points with a nifty left-handed runner off the glass, making the score 65-60 with under seven minutes to go.

Leading by six, 78-72, in the final two minutes, UNC got a key series of rebounds, both offensive and defensive, to help keep Belmont at bay, but the Bruins made another pair of clutch three-pointers to get within 80-78 in the final minute.

UNC still had a chance to put the game away at the line, but on its way to a dismal 22-for-48 shooting clip from the charity stripe, the Tar Heels again gave up chances to finish off the Bruins and they took advantage.

J.J. Mann, who scored a game-high 28 points for Belmont, sank a huge three-pointer to give Belmont an 81-80 advantage, and after UNC refused to call a timeout to set up a final shot the Tar Heels turned it over, giving the Bruins one final exclamation point in the form of a layup as the final seconds ticked off.

"J.J. Mann scored 11 of their last 13, and three of them were deep threes. Congratulate him. He made some great plays. He scored 11 points in the last 2:37. You have to congratulate him," said Williams.

"I was about 99 percent sure it was going in," said Mann about his fateful final three-pointer. "I went kind of crazy, and I was like, 'Shoot, there's still 13 seconds left,' but the adrenaline kicked in and I sprinted back."

"It was so much fun," he added. "It's unbelievable. We were fortunate to make some plays and hit some shots. This was a chance for us to get our name out there and get over that mid-major hump a little bit, and prove to ourselves that we can play with the big boys. We talk about it, but it was nice to go out there and put it into action."

The Tar Heels (2-1) return to action next Saturday against Richmond in Connecticut.


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