RALEIGH, N.C. – As the second half progressed, the scoring opportunities for Kris Dunn diminished. Justin Jackson’s length disrupted his perimeter looks, while his penetration was met with help defenders sliding into the lane.
Once North Carolina (30-6) contained the two-time Big East Player of the Year, the Friars’ offensive momentum slowed to a halt. And once Dunn’s sidekick, versatile forward Ben Bentil, fouled out with 7:23 to play, the Tar Heels proved why they are the top seed in the East Region by leaning on their depth in turning a tied game with 15:31 to play into a second-round blowout.
With Marcus Paige drawing the initial defensive assignment, Dunn promptly went to work utilizing his larger frame, backing down UNC’s senior guard on Providence’s opening possession and enticing a whistle. The Friars’ junior guard scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in his first nine minutes of play, granting the Tar Heels a reprieve with two early fouls that relegated him to the bench for 12 minutes in the first half.
Aside from a pair of transition dunks that gave Providence (24-11) a 36-34 lead in the opening minute of the second half, Paige and Nate Britt were effective in limiting Dunn’s penetration, allowing just one paint touch. It was his ability to shoot over the smaller defenders that proved problematic.
“He’s a streaky shooter, so on days that he’s on, there’s not a lot you can do,” Paige said after the 85-66 win. “So we put more size on him. Justin did a great job containing him and we were getting help from our other guards. Justin wasn’t supposed to guard him, but once we realized he was hitting outside shots over good defense, we decided to put some length on him and I think that bothered him a little bit.”
Once Roy Williams made the defensive switch, Dunn’s looks over top of his defender vanished due to Jackson’s 6-foot-8 frame. When he was able to drive around Jackson, he was met with either Paige or Joel Berry sliding into the paint to stop his penetration.
“That’s just help side,” Berry said. “We work on that all of the time, just helping out, especially on a player like that. Marcus and I, we just tried to sit in the lane a little bit if we were going across when they were running. We were able to do that and it helped Justin out a lot.”
After giving Providence its first and only lead after halftime at 36-34, Dunn tallied more turnovers (3) than made field goals (1) over the next 13:39. His fourth field goal of the second half was a 3-pointer with 5:40 to play to cut UNC’s lead to 70-54.
Dunn finished with 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting (3-of-5 from 3). Bentil, who scored 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting, was the only other Friar to score more than seven points. The Tar Heels countered with five players in double figures, led by Brice Johnson’s 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“At the end of the day, he’s going to get his,” Jackson said of Dunn. “So I tried to make it as hard as I possibly could for him to catch it. He still got some, but at the end of the day, I just tried to make it as hard as I possibly could on him.”
By locking down Dunn, UNC only needed 10 minutes and change to turn a 41-41 defensive grind into a 20-point lead.
“Justin Jackson was really good defensively, really good, yet you have to congratulate Kris,” Williams said. “[He] had 29 and I thought we did a really good job on them.”
UNC shot 60.7 percent (17-of-28) after halftime and 52.5 percent for the game against a team that entered the night ranked 26th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Providence managed a 40.4 percent shooting effort (23-of-57), including a 26.1 percent mark from 3-point range (6-of-23).
The Tar Heels have now held 27 consecutive opponents to below 45 percent shooting, and as a result, they will make their second appearance in as many years in the Sweet 16 against No. 5 seed Indiana in Philadelphia next Friday.