Tar Heels celebrate win over No. 20 UNLV
North Carolina celebrates big wins by turning its locker room into a mosh pit and jumping up and down as a group.
The Tar Heels haven’t been able to perform their version of “jump around” since last season, when it blew out Duke on senior night at Cameron Indoor Stadium to win the ACC regular-season title.
That finally changed Saturday. On the same week it fell out of the Top 25, UNC (10-3) finally achieved a signature win by knocking off No. 20 UNLV 79-73 at the Smith Center to close out its non-conference schedule.
“It’s fun to have some excitement in the locker room,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We haven’t been able to have that this year. That’s what you coach for. ... I see kids enjoying themselves, feeling the satisfaction of doing some things that are fairly difficult to do.”
The feeling was heightened by its unexpected nature. UNC had fallen behind by at least 29 points to the other two ranked teams on its schedule, Indiana and Butler, and was playing without junior forward Reggie Bullock, who collided with power forward James Michael McAdoo’s shoulder in practice Thursday night and suffered a mild concussion.
Bullock was second on the team in scoring (13.1) and rebounding (5.7) and leads the ACC in 3-point percentage (47.5). Sophomore P.J. Hairston made his first start in place of Bullock and had 15 points, four rebounds, four steals and no turnovers in a career-high 32 minutes.
“We probably wouldn’t have won the game if we didn’t have his outside shooting and his tenacious defense, and he was really crashing the boards today, which P.J. doesn’t usually do,” McAdoo said.
Senior Dexter Strickland added a game-high 16 points, the second-most of his career, and Brice Johnson had 12 points and three steals in 15 minutes as five Tar Heels posted at least a dozen points.
UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, who leads all freshmen nationally in scoring (19.5), had 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting and 13 rebounds.
Eight Tar Heels scored as UNC took a double-digit lead 8½ minutes into the game. The lead grew to 15 with 2:55 left in the half, but UNLV (11-2) closed on a 9-3 run, including a 3-pointer by Moser with five seconds remaining that made the halftime score 39-30.
After the break, the Runnin’ Rebels didn’t take long to completely close the gap. After shooting 38 percent in the first half, UNLV opened the second half by making 13 of its first 20 shots (4 of 5 from behind the arc), taking its first lead on a 3-pointer by Katin Reinhardt with 14:02 to play.
Then McAdoo turned the momentum back in UNC’s favor. He regained the lead with a putback and a 3-point play, and the sophomore then made 1 of 2 from the line after forcing Mike Moser to commit his third foul.
“Coach Hubert (Davis) had really been talking to me, just you know, attack, go through them and try to get to the foul line,” said McAdoo, who had 13 points and nine rebounds. “And that’s something I just tried to do, not settle and really try and get their big guys in foul trouble.”
UNLV was supposed to be the short-handed team, but Moser — who had 16 points, 18 rebounds and six assists in last year’s upset win over the Tar Heels — returned three weeks after dislocating his elbow. Still, he fouled out after 12 mostly ineffective minutes.
UNLV got within one point four more times after McAdoo’s personal 6-0 run but never was able to retake the lead, and UNC led by seven with three minutes left.
Still, the Tar Heels were forced to make free throws for the first time this season. The results were mixed — the team shot 7-of-14 from the line in the final six minutes — but UNLV was held to two field goals during that stretch as UNC pulled out the win.
“Second half, I was really proud of our toughness,” Williams said. “You haven’t heard me say that yet this year.”
In the closing seconds, Hairston waved his arm as the first sellout crowd of the year, totaling 20,888 people, rose to its feet one last time and celebrated UNC’s 63rd straight non-conference win dating back to 2005.
Then, 10 days after a demoralizing 18-point loss at Texas, the Tar Heels’ four freshmen were able to finally experience UNC’s victory tradition.
“It’s the first time we’ve jumped around and gone crazy like that, and hopefully we can keep doing it,” said point guard Marcus Paige, who had 12 points, four rebounds and four assists. “That feeling’s a lot better than coming back off a road trip to Texas where everyone’s just down.”
UNC 79, No. 20 UNLV 73
Percentages: FG .458, FT .524. 3-Point Goals: 8-17, .471 (Reinhardt 4-5, Moser 1-1, Hawkins 1-2, Marshall 1-2, Dejean-Jones 1-3, Bennett 0-4). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 2 (Reinhardt, Hawkins). Turnovers: 17 (Birch 4, Dejean-Jones 3, Bennett 2, Hawkins 2, Thomas 2, Reinhardt 2, Marshall, Moser). Steals: 7 (Hawkins 3, Bennett, Birch, Thomas, Marshall).
Percentages: FG .509, FT .606. 3-Point Goals: 3-10, .300 (Hairston 2-5, McDonald 1-2, Strickland 0-1, Paige 0-2). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 3 (Hubert 3). Turnovers: 12 (McAdoo 3, James 2, Johnson 2, Paige 2, Tokoto, Strickland, Hubert). Steals: 12 (Hairston 4, Johnson 3, Strickland, Hubert, Tokoto, Paige, McDonald).
A—20,888. Officials—Karl Hess, Ray Natili, Les Jones.