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North Carolina 72, Arkansas 65: Tar Heels survive and advance to the Sweet Sixteen

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Tar Heels pull off comeback despite poor shooting. How’s your heart doing?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Arkansas vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If you only watched the beginning and the end of the Tar Heels’ game against Arkansas, you saved yourself a lot of chest discomfort. It looked for a minute like UNC might run Arkansas back to Fayetteville before the Razorbacks went on a run to close out the first half. Then the wheels fell off for UNC.

Carolina went to the locker room at halftime up 38-33. It wasn’t a score anyone wearing light blue could feel good about after watching the double digit lead they’d built up slip away in nearly an instant. Carolina’s defense was hanging tough for all but the very end of the half, but the offense just couldn’t get it together.

With Joel Berry II playing on a sore ankle, the Tar Heel point guard only made two shots from the field. Those two were from beyond the arc, but everything inside wouldn’t fall. He hit four free throws to bring his game total to 10. Justin Jackson also struggled, making just five shots from the field with three of them going for three.

For those watching the Heels unravel this way, it looked a bit like the panicked, rushed shots might be Carolina’s undoing. With just about three minutes to go, however, the Tar Heels found another gear. It was the gear of a no. 1 seed playing an opponent that looked to be on the verge of stealing one.

Carolina would go 12-0 to close out the game, clamping down on defense in a big way. There was some luck in there, too, to be sure. When the Heels needed desperately to get a stop on the defensive end, they found a way to do it. A couple fortunate shots fell on their end of the court too.

Kennedy Meeks led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds, giving him 1000 for his career. Right behind him was Jackson with 15 points and eight boards on a night when the ball was, again, just seeming to be purposefully unkind to the ACC Player of the Year.

As is usually the case, UNC out-rebounded Arkansas 45-32, and bested the Razorbacks in second-chance points 16-4. The clocked was ticking down on Carolina’s season before they, as Meeks put it, came together as Carolina. That kind of performance, stealing one late, is not one the Heels have in their pocket from this year. Now they do, and they’ll be all the better going forward for it.

Exhale. Survive. Advance.