CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – With nine seconds remaining in a game No. 7 North Carolina led by two points, Roy Williams sent Tony Bradley to the scorer’s table to sub in for Kennedy Meeks for the Tar Heels’ final defensive possession.
Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner rushed the ball down the court, got an angle on his man down the left side of the paint and lofted the ball towards the rim for a game-tying layup. The ball had little chance of reaching its destination, as Bradley and his 7-foot-4 wingspan were in position for the block.
For the freshman center, those final moments were a blur.
“It happened pretty fast,” Bradley said after UNC’s 73-71 win. “I just knew I needed to help off my man because the point guard was dribbling towards me fast. I knew to try and help. I put my hand up, the ball hit my hand, and I got the rebound. It happened so fast.”
Bradley is tentative to fully commit to blocking any shot, due to the potential of causing a foul, but said his decision to go for it at the game’s conclusion was a no-brainer.
“I think I just don’t want to foul, so sometimes I hold off, sometimes I go for a block,” he said. “But to be honest, I wasn’t worried about it, I just wanted to block the shot.”
As Bradley made contact with the final shot, the Smith Center crowd erupted, and even a few of his teammates were a bit surprised to see that type of play from the freshman.
Sophomore guard Kenny Williams says it’s the type of play he’s come to expect from someone with Bradley’s talent.
“To have the young guys step up and make big plays in a game like this was great to see,” Williams said. “That we can count on them when we need to. It’s really no surprise to me… Tony was just helping his teammate on the drive. It’s things Coach teaches us and tells us to do.”
While Bradley’s final nine seconds on the court decided the outcome of the game, he also effectively used the other 20 minutes of playing time that he received. The Bartow, Fla. native notched his third double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He grabbed seven offensive rebounds, further cementing his standing as the nation’s leader in offensive rebounding percentage (22.6).
His ability to alter shots, however, is a luxury no one else on this Tar Heel roster possesses, and it’s the reason he entered the game in the final seconds with a stop required for victory.
“Tony’s length is a great asset to his game,” Kenny Williams said. “We talk about it a lot. Just how long he is, how long his arms are, how many shots he can block.”
With one swipe of his right hand, Bradley instantly became a fan favorite inside the confines of the Dean Dome, with fans chanting out “Tony! Tony!” For the soft-spoken forward, that will take some getting used to.
“I heard that at the end,” he said. “I was just trying to focus on my free throws. I kind of felt that vibe… I appreciate the support.”
Regardless, he says that his block is the highlight of his short career at UNC.
“It saved the game. It’s something I’ll never forget.”