The Tar Heels survived a first half scare before opening the game up in the second half for an 83-67 win over Florida Gulf Coast.
UNC had some rust early which wasn't unexpected coming off a big win in the ACC Tournament and in contrast to a team that already had a game under its belt. FGCU got the best of early action jumping out to an 11-7 lead just before the first media timeout. The Tar Heels seemingly began to assert control of the game with a 10-0 run to take a 17-11 lead forcing a FGCU timeout. Isaiah Hicks was a key to the run with five quick points off the bench. A Marcus Paige three on a 2-on-1 break with 9:50 left put the Heels up 11. At this point if felt like UNC was on its way to seizing control of the game.
FGCU had other ideas with UNC's defensive struggles and an inopportune offensive drought complicating matters. The Tar Heel big men had all sorts of trouble dealing with defensive rotations and FGCU created open looks off penetration. The Eagles took three three pointers on the half but had ample easy looks on the interior. The Eagles shot 61% in the first half and whittled the Tar Heel lead to just one at the break.
As the second half opened, UNC let it be know the Tar Heels were done messing around. The defense turned up a couple of notches and UNC started rolling offensive. Threes from Paige and Justin Jackson and a three point play from Brice Johnson keyed a 11-2 run to put the Tar Heels up 11 just 2:33 into the half. From there UNC exerted control of the game with a heightened defensive effort and crashing the backboards. Seven straight points from Isaiah Hicks help pushed the lead to 20 with 11:32 left.
Meanwhile, part of UNC's defensive effort was fueled by Johnson blocking everything in sight. The senior big man blocked eight shots which exceeded his total for rebounds as the Tar Heels pushed the lead to as much as 23 before winning 83-67 to move to the 2nd Round.
Brice Johnson led UNC with 18 points, seven rebounds, eight blocks and dished out three assists. Four other Tar Heels joined Johnson in double figures with Joel Berry scoring 14 points to go with six assists. Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks each had 12 points and Marcus Paige had 10,
UNC will face the winner of USC-Providence on Saturday.