On UNC's next to last possession of the game and UNC trailing by four, Joel Berry missed a layup, then missed a three off the offensive rebound then Isaiah Hicks missed a tip-in before Louisville grabbed the defensive rebound to seal the game. That was UNC's night in a microcosm as the Tar Heels lost for the first time this season in ACC play 71-65 at Louisville.
The first half was straight hot garbage for both teams. Turnovers abounded and neither team shot the ball well. Even amid the ugliness, UNC seemed to be getting the better looks and even managed 22-16 lead thanks to six points from Brice Johnson. As was the case against Virginia Tech, UNC ran into two early fouls for Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Roy Williams countered using Joel James and Luke Maye which proved problematic on both ends. The Tar Heels closed the half just 1-10 from the floor and a 10-3 Cardinal run gave the home team a 28-27 halftime lead. For the half UNC shot just 29.2% and made just one three but feasted at the free throw line going 12-15. In many ways it felt like UNC had squandered a chance to build a lead while Louisville struggled to hit shots.
The second half was a veritable scoring bonanza compared to the first. Louisville got out to an early 32-27 lead but a 7-2 UNC run keyed by five points out of Marcus Paige and a basket from Justin Jackson evened the game up. From there the game became a nip and tuck affair with both teams scoring at will and whichever defense managed to tighten up first would permit that team to grab the edge.
Louisville managed the feat first and methodically opened up a lead as high as seven points. UNC's defense failed to get stops or control the offensive glass. On the other end, the Tar Heels were consistently frustrated by the Cardinal defense. Louisville stifled most attempts to move the ball inside and the shots UNC settled for from the perimeter continued to not fall. While that has been true recently for Paige and Jackson, Berry had been immune until this game where he was 1-10 from the floor and 1-5 from three. For just the third time this season and the first time since the loss to Texas, Berrry failed to score in double figures.
Despite being down three possessions, UNC mounted a comeback to draw as close as two with Justin Jackson at the line. Jackson missed the free throw and two Cardinal makes at the free throw line put Louisville up four with 26 seconds left. UNC inability to score on the next possession despite multiple chances ended any hope of a Tar Heel rally.
Brice Johnson registered another double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds despite a suffocating defense on the interior. As far as silver linings go, Justin Jackson snapped out of his funk to score 16 points on 6-9 shooting and 4-5 at the line following his 0-4 misadventure on free throws versus Boston College. Outside of those two, UNC managed very little offense from the floor and was kept alive by a 22-14 edge in made free throws. UNC posted a season high TO% 23.0, the first time the Tar Heels had turned the ball over more 20% in a game all season. The Tar Heels also finished with an offensive efficiency under 100 for the first time this year.
UNC falls to 19-3 overall and 8-1 in the ACC and will look to make this loss a mere bump in the road on Saturday at Notre Dame.