That was much more difficult than it needed to be but it's March and all that matters is getting the win.
The Tar Heels played most of this game doing what it wanted to do on the offensive end. After a sluggish start where it seemed like both teams were getting a feel for each other the Tar Heels got the transition game going. The result was 19-7 lead and then a 26-14 edge. The Tar Heels appeared poised to run away with the game but turnovers played havoc with UNC's offense for stretches. The Crimson rallied to within three before a 10-2 run to close the half put the Tar Heels up by 11 at the break.
After halftime, both teams came out hitting shots but the pace favored the Tar Heels. UNC eventually extended the lead to 16 at 52-36. Kennedy Meeks scored 7 of UNC's first 16 points in the second half which also included a three from Justin Jackson and layup from Paige off a Harvard turnover. With 16:08 it looked like the Tar Heels were ready to pull away for comfortable win.
Enter the turnovers and not just the turnovers but Harvard's ability to capitalize off them. For the game Harvard forced 17 turnovers which led to 29 Crimson points. Forced may not be the right word there because in some cases UNC turned the ball over out of its own ineptitude. Whether it be lazy passes or ill-advised ones, UNC continued to hand the ball back to Harvard and the Crimson put points on the board. The miscues kept Harvard in the game despite UNC hitting 55% of its shots and Harvard shooting 38% for the game.
As the turnovers mounted, UNC's lead slowly ebbed away. At first Harvard's persistence was just a tad annoying. It felt like the Crimson would simply make the game a 3-4 possession affair and more of a grind than it maybe should have been. Then the lead was cut to one before a Marcus Paige three pushed it back to four. After Harvard's Wesley Saunders hit a shot to cut the lead to two, a lazy pass from Brice Johnson gave the Crimson a chance to tie or take the lead with 2:18 left. The Tar Heels played solid defense and forced a miss but failed to secure the offensive rebound.
Harvard's second chance on the possession was marked by excellent defense out of J.P. Tokoto who denied Saunders the ball leaving Siyani Chambers to make something happen with the shot clock going down. Chambers came off a screen and despite a clean contest from Paige, hit an off balanced three and drew a foul call. The subsequent free throw put the Crimson up two with 1:14 remaining.
With UNC in dire need of a basket, the ball went to Justin Jackson who hit a mid lane floater in coldblooded fashion to tie the game. Chambers missed a three and Tokoto grabbed a tough rebound in traffic. He pitched ahead quickly to Paige who found Jackson for layup to put the Tar Heels ahead for good. UNC survived two three point attempts in the final 11 seconds to advance to the Second Round.
Jackson led UNC with 14 points and was 2-2 from three. Paige scored 9 of his 12 points in the second half including hitting some big shots when UNC needed. He also had six assists versus just one turnover. Meeks scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds marking his third straight NCAA Tournament in double figures. Brice Johnson struggled on both ends scoring just 7 points on 2-7 shooting. Isaiah Hicks had a big first half off the bench with nine points.
As much as everyone wants to trust this team, the Tar Heels keep finding ways give people pause. While Harvard gets all the credit in the world for being resilient, UNC did a lot of hurting itself in this game apart from anything Harvard was doing defensively. The Crimson made UNC pay for those mistakes but the litany of ill-advised, lazy and downright mind boggling passes continue to be the bane of Roy Williams' existence. That being said, while UNC did watch a 16 point lead collapse to a two point deficit, the Tar Heels made plays to clinch the win. That's at least progress of some sort.