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ACC Tournament: UNC 70 Louisville 60

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It was a familiar and unfamiliar script for the Tar Heels as UNC overcame a poor shooting first half to take control of the game late in the second half then hold on for 70-60 win to advance to the ACC Tournament Semifinals

The game certainly had the look of some of UNC's losses this season with some bleak shooting early in the game. The Tar Heels opened the contest missing everything from open jumpers to point blank shots at the rim. After opening the half 3-6, the Tar Heels went on a 1-13 stretch including eight straight misses to fall behind 19-12.

While Louisville's defense was part of the equation, the Tar Heels also didn't play with the level of energy needed for a game of this nature. Roy Williams burned a timeout and spent it ripping both J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson. It was easily as angry as Williams has been during a game this season.

"I didn't sprint back on a few possessions before he did snap."Johnson said afterwards, "I mean, he kind of deserves to do that, so I really can't say much about that. It's my fault and I had to pay the consequences for it."

Louisville shot 51.9% in the first half on the way to taking as much as a ten point lead before the Tar Heels whittled it to five at the break. The two possession deficit was despite UNC hitting only 37% to that point. Simply put it could have been worse had it not been for an eight point burst from Joel Berry and the Cardinals turning the ball over on a quarter of their possessions. The first half was also not quite up to the billing of the first two games between these two teams.

That changed in the second half with the Tar Heels opening on a 7-0 run thanks to a Marcus Paige three, a Brice Johnson dunk off a Paige steal and a pair of Johnson free throws to take lead. Over the intervening minutes the game settled into an intense back and forth with both teams making plays on both ends of the court to bring matters to a 50-50 tie with 12:16 left.

The concern for UNC going down the stretch was the inability to extend any lead once the Heels claimed it. The Heels had chances to extend a one point lead at 54-53 and again at 56-55 to create space but was unable to do so. It wasn't until Johnson put back a J.P. Tokoto miss with 5:29 left did the Heels finally move ahead by more than a point.

On the other end, Tokoto made perhaps the biggest play of the game when he wrestled the ball away from Montrezl Harrell to grab a key defensive rebound. Harrell had been a nightmare all game for the Tar Heels, often being tougher on the boards than the Tar Heel players. That rebound and a steal with UNC up 64-57 were critical contributions from
a player who largely struggled offensively.

Though UNC was in control, there was signs that the Tar Heels were about to again stumble to the finish line. After a shot clock violation and a missed shot from Paige, Wayne Blackshear cut the Tar Heels to 64-60 with 2:03 left. That would be the last points Louisville would score as the Tar Heels took care of business at the free throw line but also on the defensive end. UNC closed out the half going 12-12 from the stripe while at the same time holding Louisville to 23 points and 22.2% shooting after halftime.

In that respect, UNC defense proved to be the key to finally closing out one of these tough games against a good team. In UNC's previous stumbles, the offense had issues but the defense couldn't get stops. That was the case in the loss at Louisville, both Duke games and even the loss to Notre Dame resulted from the failure to snag an offensive rebound at a key moment. UNC switched up the defense and got a solid effort to shut the door even if the offense wasn't quite executing as cleanly on offense as one would hope.

Brice Johnson led the Tar Heels with 22 points and seven rebounds. 20 of those points came after Williams got in his face and he started the game 1-5 from the floor. The combination of Johnson starting poorly and Williams challenging him raised a question of how he might respond. The answer was a solid second half that included him going 8-8 from the line. Paige scored 13 points, dished out five assists and had four steals to key the Tar Heels' defensive effort. Justin Jackson scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds. Kennedy Meeks, who was a game time decision and clearly winded by his lack of activity since Saturday came up with some key baskets late and blocked a shot to finish with 9 points and five boards. Berry's eight point first half that kept the Tar Heels in contact with Louisville was his total for the game.

UNC advances to face #1 seeded Virginia in the ACC Semifinals.