Tar Heels come back to top Providence in NCAA opener
North Carolina junior James Michael McAdoo, a 53.7 percent free-throw shooter for the season, was going to the line in a tie game with 3.5 seconds left.
But first, he’d have to wait as the referees determined how much time was left on the clock.
Coach Roy Williams was ready with a golf anecdote, telling McAdoo about the time he made a six-footer to win $55,000 for charity.
“I said, ‘Two free throws, that’s easy compared to making a putt for $55,000,’” Williams said. “I was basically trying to get him to stop thinking so much.”
Point guard Marcus Paige came in to remind McAdoo about the thousands of free throws he shot with assistant coach Hubert Davis during the offseason.
“’If they haven’t paid off before, they’re about to pay off now,’” Paige said. “He smiled and chuckled. He was really calm.”
Finally, McAdoo knocked down the first free throw. He missed the second but got his own rebound, leading No. 19 UNC to a 79-77 win over Bryce Cotton and Providence Friday in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 at AT&T Arena. On Sunday, the sixth-seeded Tar Heels will face No. 3 seed Iowa State, the winner of Friday’s late game here against No. 14 seed N.C. Central for the chance to play in next week’s East Regional at Madison Square Garden.
UNC (24-9) survived a 36-point, eight-assist performance by the 6-1 Cotton. That matched the most points scored against the Tar Heels in the NCAA Tournament, a mark previously set by Weber State’s Harold Arceneaux in 1999 and Purdue’s Rick Mount in the 1969 Final Four.
That game against Weber State was the only time in its last 30 NCAA appearances that UNC lost its opener. But a balanced effort led by Paige (19 points, four assists), McAdoo (16 points, 10 rebounds), Brice Johnson (16 points, eight rebounds, four blocks), J.P. Tokoto (10 points, six assists, three steals) and Kennedy Meeks (12 points in 13 minutes) ensured that Williams would improve to 24-0 in his career at UNC and Kansas in the Round of 64.
“It was fun,” Paige said. “When someone has the hot hand like that and we’re doing everything we can to stop him and we’re coming at him with the balanced attack, it was a fun game — because we won.”
Providence hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1997 — UNC has won 37 in that span — and was making its first appearance in the event since 2004.
But the Friars felt right at home to start, scoring on their first six possessions and making eight of their first 10 shots to take an early lead in San Antonio, where UNC had lost its two previous tournament games, in the 1998 and 2008 Final Fours.
On the whiteboard in the locker room before the game, Williams wrote three words in big letters: “Rebound, run and compete.”
The Tar Heels did their best to get out in transition against the Friars (23-12), who use a six-man rotation. They also outrebounded Providence 40-26, and their 26 second-chance points — including McAdoo’s winning free throw — was their second-most of the season.
They needed them all to counter Cotton, a first-team all-Big East senior point guard who matched the 36 points scored by N.C. State’s T.J. Warren and Louisville’s Russ Smith against UNC earlier this season.
“I’ve seen Bryce perform like that in practice, but when you get to this stage and you’re able to do that I’ve been saying the whole year I think Bryce is one of the top guards in all of America,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “It’s just for whatever reason he didn’t get the national love.”
UNC led by nine with 11 minutes left, but Providence went on a 22-6 run to lead 71-64 with 4:34 remaining.
The Tar Heels tied the game three times on 3-point possessions in the final three minutes — at 71 on a Paige 3-pointer, at 74 on an acrobatic 3-point play by Tokoto, and at 77 on another 3 by Paige with 1:06 remaining.
UNC allowed the Friars to shoot a season-high 52.8 percent, but the Tar Heels got the defensive stop it needed when Ladontae Henton missed a contested lay-up and Johnson got the rebound with 37 seconds to play and the game tied at 77.
Johnson missed badly on the other end, but McAdoo got the rebound and was fouled with 3.5 seconds left. He made 1 of 2, and then made 1 of 2 again when he got his own rebound with 1.7 seconds to play “This is what it’s all about,” McAdoo said. “Just knowing that everyone around the world, my family behind the bench, and eyes are on me. Just thankful to God for the opportunity, and also for being able to knock them in.”
After advancing on a day when Tobacco Road rival Duke lost, the Tar Heels were met in the locker room by David Robinson, a former Spurs player and a friend of Williams.
“March Madness, man,” Robinson said. “You guys brought a little madness today. I like that.”
|NORTH CAROLINA 79, PROVIDENCE 77|
Percentages: FG .528, FT .810.
3-Point Goals: 4-16, .250 (Cotton 3-9, Harris 1-1, Henton 0-3, Fortune 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 8 (Harris 3, Fortune 2, Desrosiers 2, Batts).
Turnovers: 10 (Cotton 3, Desrosiers 2, Fortune 2, Batts 2, Harris).
Steals: 4 (Cotton 2, Batts, Desrosiers).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .465, FT .692.
3-Point Goals: 4-15, .267 (Paige 3-9, McDonald 1-5, Tokoto 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Johnson 4).
Turnovers: 9 (Tokoto 2, Johnson 2, McAdoo, Hicks, Hubert, McDonald, Paige).
Steals: 7 (Tokoto 3, Hicks, Meeks, McAdoo, Britt).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Chris Rastatter, Bo Boroski, Kevin Brill.