Maybe UNC didn't deserve to win the game given how the Tar Heels played over the first 36 minutes but during the final four, Carolina erased an eight point deficit with a 21-3 run to win the CBE Hall of Fame Classic over Kansas State 80-70.
For most of the game the Tar Heels struggled on both ends of the floor save for a few offensive spurts that kept the game within reach. UNC went to the interior early getting Brice Johnson off to a 3-for-3 start and an early Tar Heel lead. However the Tar Heel offense simply couldn't find consistency. Part of it was simply missing shots or setting for jumpers and the other was Kansas State forcing turnovers. At one point UNC's offensive efficiency plummeted as low as 65 as Kansas State moved out to a 17-11 lead with 9:27 left.
Enter Justin Jackson. The sophomore shook off missing his first three shots to get rolling over the final nine minutes of the first half. Jackson accounted for nine of UNC's 19 points over the balance of the half with Theo Pinson also hitting a three. Still the Tar Heels trailed 32-30 at the half.
Then came the opposing player who hadn't hit the broadside of a barn with a sawed off shotgun all season to bury all the threes. In this case it was Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes, he of the 3-14 shooting from three entering the game. Stokes hit a pair of threes in the first half aiding the Wildcats to a two point lead. As it turns out he was just getting warmed up. Stokes opened the second half with back-to-back threes in a 47 second span pushing the K-State lead to four. His fifth three cut a 46-42 UNC lead to one and his sixth put Kansas State ahead 56-54 with 7:38 left. From there, Kansas State continued to score at will on the Tar Heel defense pushing the lead to 67-59 with 4:12 left in the game.
To this point, the Tar Heels had been out of sorts on both ends, beaten off the dribble, late on close outs and generally unable to string together decent offense for more than a few possessions. The play of Justin Jackson for much of the half kept the game from getting too far out of reach. However down eight with four minutes left given UNC's inconsistency felt like too tall a mountain to scale. What's more the toughness questions which has consistently plagued this group since last year were alive and well as Kansas State appeared to be on the way to a handing UNC its second loss in six games.
As it turns out, UNC found some toughness and four good minutes of offense to embark on a 21-3 run to seal the game. Joel Berry, who had been torched on defense, had three turnovers and continued to struggle running the offense hit a three cut the lead to two. Following a Jackson jumper to tie the contest, Kennedy Meeks did his best James Michael McAdoo impersonation with a steal at midcourt and dunk on the other end to put UNC ahead for good. Theo Pinson, whose game had been a roller coaster, nailed a three to push the lead to five with 1:14 remaining.
UNC closed the game out with clutch free throw shooting going 5-6 at the line to remove any hope of a Kansas State rally.
Jackson notched his third straight 20 point game, scoring 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go along with five rebounds and six assists. Brice Johnson, despite playing just 24 minutes, record another double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds while his frontcourt mate Kennedy Meeks went for what felt like a quiet 15 points. Theo Pinson put together another stat stuff special with 11 points on 3-7 shooting from three, five rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Isaiah Hicks chipped in eight points and while Luke Maye did not score he played a solid 11 minutes with Johnson in foul trouble which included a tough rebound and full court pass to Jackson for a layup.
Assuming Paige returns on December 1st, UNC will end up being 5-1 without him with the one loss being by four at Northern Iowa. If that game served the purpose of getting Justin Jackson going, then the loss may have been worth it.