North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he felt like a train ran over him, and then backed up and got him a second time.
Three days after losing to Texas and finding out P.J. Hairston would never play again for No. 14 UNC, the Tar Heels found themselves in overtime against 4-7 Davidson at the Smith Center.
Still, Williams and his team managed to get some positive feelings going into the Christmas break. Marcus Paige scored 11 of his 17 points and the Tar Heels (8-3) went 11 of 12 from the free throw line in the extra session to pull out a 97-85 win Saturday.
“It was a tough week for us just because P.J. had a great preseason, a great offseason, he’s been like a brother to me and to hear that he’s not going to be with us, it really hurts,” Paige said. “It was good for us to have this game and win as a moving-on.”
Hairston, last year’s leading scorer, was ruled ineligible by UNC for accepting extra benefits, including the use of high-end rental cars. He watched from the bench on Saturday, as he has for every home game.
Sophomore small forward J.P. Tokoto, who has started every game in Hairston’s place, set career highs in points (22), rebounds (11), steals (five) and blocks (four). His production helped the Tar Heels on a day when Paige and Brice Johnson, two of the team’s three leading scorers, were held scoreless for the first 29 minutes.
“(Tokoto’s) specialty is filling up the stat sheet in other ways than just scoring. So when he gets the scoring going, that’s just extra,” Paige said. “He was all over the boards and brought a lot of energy and consistency throughout the game, especially when me and Brice were struggling. He was phenomenal tonight and we wouldn’t have had the chance to win without him.”
Johnson, making his first start of the season in place of center Joel James (sprained MCL), fouled out with two points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.
Paige, who is second in the ACC in minutes (35.6) and third in points (19.6), was the target of box-and-1 zones and faceguarding by Davidson and didn’t score until there was 8:17 left in regulation. But his two free throws tied the game with 29 seconds left, and after Davidson missed a deep 3 at the end of regulation, Paige scored seven points in the first 2:13 of overtime to pull UNC ahead.
“I couldn’t really find any energy the whole game,” Paige said. “But crunch time and overtime — I love the big moment, when the game’s on the line. That’s when it gets really fun. I guess I had a little bit left in the tank and I found it.”
Paige was also 8 for 8 from the line. Free throws have been a major issue for UNC, which shot 50 for 106 (47.2 percent) in three losses to unranked opponents so far, but the Tar Heels finished 34 of 47 (72.3 percent) on Saturday.
“I’m proud of our team’s toughness,” Williams said. “We went to the free-throw line and we made some free throws down the stretch. We shot them better under pressure than we did even earlier in the game.”
UNC needed them despite being an 18-point favorite against Davidson (4-8), which was coming off back-to-back losses to Niagara and Drexel and had already lost by 34 to Duke and by 31 to Clemson.
The Wildcats got 33 points from Brian Sullivan, who came in shooting 5 of 28 from behind the arc in his last four games but was 7 of 14 on Saturday. Still, Sullivan missed the potential game-winner in regulation. The Tar Heels trapped on the final possession, forcing Sullivan to take a long 3 over Britt as time was expiring.
“We just didn’t want them to hold out for the last shot freely,” Williams said.
UNC used pressure sparingly but effectively in the second half, at one-point forcing back-to-back turnovers with a full-court press.
“We had to try something,” Williams said.
The Tar Heels also got 19 points, four steals and a career-high five assists from junior James Michael McAdoo and 13 points (on 6 of 6 shooting) and a career-high three blocks by freshman center Kennedy Meeks. Leslie McDonald, in his second game back since serving a nine-game suspension because of his own impermissible benefits case, made his only 3-point attempt and added nine points, while the Tar Heels had seven fewer turnovers and seven more rebounds than Davidson.
Still, the team that beat marquee opponents Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky needed to shoot 63 percent in the second half and overtime to beat the Wildcats and avoid a third non-conference loss at the Smith Center.
“It was a frustrating game in so many different ways, but that’s my team,” Williams said. “You just gotta understand that.”
|No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA 97, DAVIDSON 85, OT|
Percentages: FG .456, FT .583.
3-Point Goals: 9-23, .391 (Sullivan 7-14, Kalinoski 2-3, Gibbs 0-1, Belford 0-1, Droney 0-1, Czerapowicz 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 0.
Turnovers: 22 (Gibbs 5, Kalinoski 5, Droney 3, Sullivan 3, Brooks 2, Barham, Belford, Czerapowicz).
Steals: 3 (Brooks, McAuliffe, Aase).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .484, FT .723.
3-Point Goals: 3-6, .500 (McDonald 1-1, Tokoto 1-2, Paige 1-3).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 11 (Tokoto 4, Meeks 3, Johnson 2, Simmons, McAdoo).
Turnovers: 15 (McAdoo 3, Tokoto 3, McDonald 2, Johnson 2, Hicks, Hubert, Britt, Meeks, Paige).
Steals: 11 (Tokoto 5, McAdoo 4, Britt, Paige).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Tim Nestor, Jeff Nichols, Raymond Styons.