For much of the first half, this had all the markings of a game that UNC was going to drop.
They went into halftime down just six, but it felt like they were a little bit lucky to only be losing by that much. The Tar Heels kept turning the ball over, and Tennessee was more than able to take advantage of that. UT was having no problems getting offensive rebounds, and UNC didn’t attempt a free throw until late in the first half.
Every time Carolina would make any sort of run, the Volunteers would come right back and go on one of their own to extend their lead back out. UNC couldn’t quite get over the hill and kept making mistakes that only made it worse.
At the 18:01 mark, Tennessee’s Grant Williams made a jumper to take UT’s lead out to nine, matching their biggest of the game. From that point forward, everything flipped and Carolina outscored Tennessee 39-25 the rest of the way.
Throughout the second half, The Tar Heels asserted themselves on the boards, to the point where they ended up with a +7 margin for the game. After making 12 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, they made just four after that. Luke Maye had just four points and two rebounds in the first half and nearly ended up with another double-double. Everything went right in the second half.
Kenny Williams made a three to put UNC up 72-70 with 33 seconds left, and the Tar Heels never trailed again. Carolina got some stops and survived the free throw parade and came out with a 78-73 win on the road in Knoxville.
Joel Berry led the Tar Heels in scoring going for 21 points. He got off to a good start, scoring the first six points, but he was one of the main culprits in the turnover struggles, finishing with three. He did chip in with two assists and four rebounds, and hit some big free throws late, including two with UNC down three with around a minute left.
Other solid performances for the Tar Heels came from Maye, who went for 15 and 8. In addition to the go ahead shot, Williams had another good game, finishing with 15 points. Theo Pinson nearly had a triple-double, coming up just short in all three categories. He finished with seven points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. Sterling Manley had 10 points and eight rebounds off the bench, with Garrison Brooks getting nine and eight.
This game saw the best and worst of what this team can be. In the first half, you saw some of the worst. They were sloppy and the inexperience in the frontcourt was on display. In the second half, you saw some of the best. They clamped down on defense (Tennessee shot under 40% for the game, and the number being that low came mostly from the second half), got back to dominating the boards, and asserted themselves on the game.
Considering that they did all this against a ranked team on the road, on the whole, this was a successful day for the Tar Heels.