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November 24, 2013

Top Five Stunner

North Carolina came together and played 40 minutes of high-caliber basketball Sunday afternoon, beating down defending national champion Louisville 93-84 Sunday afternoon at the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament in Uncasville (Conn.) to end the Cardinals' 21-game winning streak.

Marcus Paige established a new career high in scoring for the second straight day, dropping 32 points for UNC after scoring 26 in Saturday afternoon's win over Richmond.

"Needless to say, we feel great. Completely different feeling than it was seven days ago, last Sunday against Belmont when we didn't play (very well)," said head coach Roy Williams after the game. "Today I thought we played exceptionally well. I loved what Marcus did. What Brice did."

The Tar Heels shot better than 54 percent from the field for the game against the No. 3 Cardinals, who pride themselves on pressure defense and forcing a lot of bad shots.

UNC fell behind early 19-10 as the Cardinals came out hot from the perimeter, but the rest of the game belonged to the underdog Tar Heels, who at No. 24 figured to fall out of the national rankings if they lost.

But in an uplifting, inspiring effort, the Tar Heels came out and forced the tempo against Louisville, pressuring them with their fast-paced style. UNC often found itself beating Louisville down the court and getting easy transition baskets.

"I just feel very, very good about our team. 180 degrees away, everybody in that locker room from what they felt like last week (after the Belmont loss)," said Williams.

"We knew we had to play our best. We couldn't play anything less than the best in order to win this game. We didn't talk too much winning. We talked about playing a heck of a lot better. I think we did play a heck of a lot better."

Though UNC trailed most all of the first half they hung around, and Paige hit a clutch three-pointer at the buzzer right before halftime to tie the game 44-44, giving UNC a ton of momentum going into the locker room.

The Tar Heels used an 8-0 run early in the second half to take an 11-point lead after Louisville standout Montrezl Harrell picked up his fourth foul. A little over five minutes later Harrell fouled out of the game.

Freshman Kennedy Meeks had a huge game for Carolina, recording a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while setting up multiple fast breaks with his tremendous outlet passing. He finished with seven assists, a staggering number for a big man.

"College basketball is what Kennedy Meeks did. I mean yesterday he was one of the worst players on the planet, and today he was unbelievable," said Coach Williams.

Williams tried to inspire Meeks Saturday night with a little pep talk heading into the Louisville matchup, and whatever the Hall of Fame coach said to his rookie center seemed to work, as Meeks was a force on Sunday.

"I told him last night, 'You just weren't ready to play. You didn't have the intensity. You've got to be into it tomorrow. This is big-time college basketball.' And Kennedy, 13 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, only one turnover. That's really big for us."

Brice Johnson, coming off a 24-point outing on Saturday, had another solid game against the Cardinals, again scoring in double figures with 13 points while making numerous key blocks on defense.

Aside of Paige's 32 points the story of the game was defense for North Carolina, as the Tar Heels held Louisville to 38.8 percent shooting for the game and just 11-for-30 (36.7 percent) from behind the three-point line.

Two players scored 54 of Louisville's 84 points---Russ Smith, who led everyone with 36 points, and Chris Jones, who tallied 18 in the losing effort.

"Russ Smith is a heck of a player, and Chris Jones and those guys about killed us on the perimeter," said Williams of Louisville's top performers.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino fell to 0-5 all-time in games against North Carolina.

"Louisville's team is really something. Rick Pitino is one of our greatest coaches at any level, at any time. If he hadn't taken that hiatus to the NBA for those years, there's no telling how many wins he would have," said Williams.

"You've got to play the total game when you play them (Louisville)," Williams continued. "You've got to guard people. You've got to handle the press. You've got to score the halfcourt. You've got to do everything. I feel great about what we did."

UNC has a week off from game action for the Thanksgiving Holiday before returning to action next Sunday (December 1) against UAB in Birmingham (Ala.).


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