The Pirates second half scoring output was the most points allowed in a half of basketball by North Carolina during Roy Williams' tenure. One week prior, the Tarheels limited East Tennessee State to a school-record 12 points in the first half. Former North Carolina point guard and ECU head coach Jeff Lebo didn't believe the well-fought loss was a moral victory but did see it as a pure measuring-stick game.
"It was big for our university and our program," said Lebo. "Hopefully we get some confidence out of it."
Before 19,147 and a national television audience, ECU closed the game on a 10-4 run that was highlighted by a pair of three-pointers by Akeem Richmond and kept the Pirates within striking distance. Richmond, a former UNC ball-boy, had a game-high 17 points, all of which came in the second half, and shot 5-10 from beyond the arc.
"In the first half, the shots just were not falling," said Richmond. "In the second half, we came out relaxed, the shots started falling, and things started changing."
The Pirates trailed 42-26 at halftime, with their two leading scorers, Miguel Paul and Maurice Kemp, only having scored four points combined. Both of which bounced back and were instrumental in the second half rally; each finishing with 15 points.
"Coach (Lebo) told us at halftime that we could win this game," said Paul, who is one of the team's vocal leaders on and off the floor.
That was evident in the game's final minute when Richmond hit a corner-three-pointer with 38.5 seconds remaining to cut the UNC lead to 88-82. On the ensuing inbounds-pass, the Pirates pressed and Tarheels shooting guard Dexter Strickland appeared to have committed a sure offensive foul, but instead, a questionable blocking foul was charged to Kemp by official Karl Hess.
On the Pirates next possession, Richmond drained another trey to cut the North Carolina lead to 91-87, but just ran out of time.
Tarheels forward and future NBA prospect James Michael McAdoo had a game-high 19 points, but it was shooting-guard P.J. Hairston who saved the day. Hairston scored 19 points off the bench and always seemed to have an answer to every ECU run.
UNC post-players did not grab one offensive rebound during Saturday afternoon's tilt. Head coach Roy Williams was clearly frustrated with his team's inability to generate second-chance baskets.
"Why don't I have any big guys in the game? Because they were not getting any rebounds," said Williams. "Everybody's got to pitch in and do a better job."
Just before tip-off, Lebo was given a thunderous standing ovation by the Dean Smith Center crowd. He started for four years as the Tarheels point guard under Williams, who was an assistant to legendary head coach Dean Smith.
"It's a special place for me," said Lebo. "It was awful nice of the people here and Coach Williams to do that…It meant a lot to me and my family."
Saturday's game marked the first scheduled regular season game between the two schools since 1953. Their last meeting was during the 1993 NCAA tournament.
ECU will have a quick turn-around and face Gardner Webb Tuesday night at Minges Coliseum.