North Carolina (6-1) combined 8-0 and 7-2 spurts to build a 19-10 advantage midway through the first half, but Wisconsin (6-1) responded with a 12-2 run to retake the lead at 22-21. UNC's 25-24 halftime lead set new season lows in first-half points for both teams.
The Badgers took control early in the second half with a 10-2 run to open up a 36-31 lead, but the Tar Heels answered with an 18-5 spurt to grab a 49-41 lead with 5:31 left to play. That margin would grow to 10 points in the final minute before three late 3-pointers made the final score more respectable.
Harrison Barnes led all scorers with 20 points – 14 in the second half – on 6-of-12 shooting. Tyler Zeller added 12 points and seven rebounds, while John Henson (8 pts, 5 blks) finished one rebound short of a career high with 17.
Jordan Taylor paced Wisconsin with 18 points. Jared Berggren scored 14 points and Ryan Evans added 10 points and seven rebounds.
UNC shot 42.2 percent (19-of-45, 3-of-9 3-pointers) from the floor and held the Badgers to 35.9 percent (23-of-64), including a 28.6 percent mark (8-of-28) from long range. North Carolina outrebounded Wisconsin, 42-29.
The Tar Heels won just two games in head coach Roy Williams's first seven seasons when scoring 64 points or less. UNC has now accomplished that feat six times in the last 30 games.
INSIDE THE GAME
Second Half Spurt
Wisconsin's 10-2 run early in the second half put UNC down five points with 13:19 to play and in need of a spark to shift momentum. Barnes, with a long resume of late-game explosions, dusted off his cape for the first time this season and scored 10 points in North Carolina's 18-5 spurt to flip the deficit and send the Badgers home with a defeat.
Barnes ignited the crowd with a 3-pointer and answered Taylor's field goal two possessions later with one of his own. A pair of free throws 76 seconds later moved UNC out front 42-38 and another 3-pointer pushed that margin to 47-41.
"He made some big-time shots," Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. "I saw his mother this morning. I said, ‘Your son is going to play a big-time game tonight,' and I really believed he was."
Henson summed up Barnes's performance even more succinctly: "Big time game, 9:30pm, national television - that's where he rises to the occasion."
Team chemistry and growth is built upon shared experiences, and it's clear the UNLV loss was one shared experience this team wanted to learn from and not let happen again.
"It was 36-31, that was kind of the go-ahead," Barnes said. "Thinking back to the UNLV game, that was the area where it could go to down 12 or a tie game. So I think that was big. We were in that similar situation last time and let that get out of hand - we knew we had to contest the three and get shots on offense."
Credit North Carolina's defense for spurring the run with a number of stops. Wisconsin connected on just two of its 12 field goal attempts during that seven-minute, 48-second stretch.
"You've got to hit a shot now and then in that streak," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "You've got to break that mental… You've just got to be tough enough to get one or two in there and break those streaks."
Clutch Charity Performance
North Carolina missed 10 of 25 free throw attempts in the second half of Saturday's loss to UNLV, thereby preventing any sort of traction to cut into the Runnin' Rebels lead. But once Wisconsin climbed in front 36-31, the Tar Heels used the free throw line as an ally, knocking down 14 straight at one point an finishing with a 16-of-18 effort over the final 9:50.
The Tar Heels exited Sin City with a 60.7 free throw percentage on the season, but shot 79.2 percent (19-of-24) from the charity stripe against the Badgers.
"We definitely shot a lot of free throws after we came back from Vegas – a lot of free throws," Barnes said. "It was good that we were able to translate that over to the game."
The sophomore wing noted that he had practiced shooting free throws every day since the team returned home. When asked if the number of shots exceeded 100, Barnes replied, "At least."
Barnes wasn't the only Tar Heel on free throw duty.
"I probably put up 100, 150," Zeller said. "It wasn't that Coach said you had to get up so many free throws, but we just knew it was something that we had to work on and we knew that the game was going to come down to the end."
Containing an All-American
Jordan Taylor entered Wednesday's contest averaging just 11 points per game, but that his scoring output was low due the Badgers not needing his offense in winning their first six games handily. The senior point guard averaged 18.1 points per game last season, including 20.1 points per contest in Big Ten play.
After averaging 9.8 field goal attempts through six outings, Taylor was forced to carry the offensive burden against UNC but struggled to convert due to the tag-team effort of Marshall and Strickland. Taylor finished with 18 points on 6-of-20 shooting (3-of-11 on 3-pointers) and only dished out four assists against zero turnovers.
"Jordan Taylor just dominates the ball so effectively and yet I've got to congratulate Dexter and Kendall because it's hard to guard that guy," Williams said.