GREENVILLE, S.C. – North Carolina finally woke up and played like the South Region’s No. 1 seed with its season on the line, charging back from a late five-point deficit to hold off No. 8 seed Arkansas, 72-65, on Sunday.
A Jaylen Barford layup gave Arkansas its largest lead at 65-60 with 3:28 to play. The Tar Heels paired scores on its next four possessions with six consecutive defensive stops to regain the lead and secure the victory. UNC closed the game on a 12-0 run.
"The last seven possessions we scored six times," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. "The last [six] possessions they didn't score. So that's some toughness there, too. I'll still say I feel lucky. But you know what? Luck is -- what's that old saying? -- preparation meets opportunity. And the guys stepped up and made some plays."
UNC led 30-13 late in the first half and by nine points early in the second half before a barrage of offensive miscues allowed the Razorbacks to storm back. The Tar Heels shot 38.1 percent from the floor, 29.4 percent from 3-point range and committed 17 turnovers in the win.
Berry Plays But Struggles
Second-team All-ACCer Joel Berry shot 2-of-13 from the floor and 2-of-8 from 3-point range, continuing his recent shooting struggles. The junior point guard has converted 20.7 percent of his field goal attempts (6-of-29) and 17.6 percent of his 3-point attempts (3-of-17) over his last three games.
"Sometimes the ball doesn't go in, sometimes it does," Berry said. "And I felt like I started out the game, I hit two threes in the first half but it just wasn't falling for me. But way back early in the season when I had that bad game at Miami, Coach told me, 'don't let the ball going in dictate how you're playing.' So I just tried to help my team out in different ways. I had assists. I was trying to dig in on the defensive end, and I just took that lesson and I learned from it. And that's what I'm trying to do."
Berry, who was questionable for the game after turning his right ankle against Texas Southern, logged 34 minutes, five more than his season average, despite experiencing soreness late in the game after his medication wore off.
"[My ankle] held up pretty good," he said. "Towards the end of the game, that's when I started feeling it and it bothered me a lot, but I just tried to dig in and do whatever I could to help the team out."
Good on the Glass
Sunday’s game pitted the nation’s top offensive rebounding team against one of the worst in the country. UNC capitalized on that advantage in the first half, scoring 10 second-chance points off 14 offensive rebounds. Arkansas eliminated that edge for much of the second half, allowing just two second-chance points on one offensive rebound in building its 65-60 lead.
The Tar Heels made their presence felt in the final minutes, however, grabbing three offensive rebounds and scoring four points off those boards. Kennedy Meeks grabbed the season’s most critical offensive rebound - the 999th rebound of his career - and scored on the putback with 44 seconds to play to give UNC a three-point cushion. The senior center grabbed one final rebound, making him the ninth Tar Heel in school history to pull down 1,000 in a career.
UNC outrebounded Arkansas, 45-32, including an 18-8 edge on the offensive glass.
First Half Momentum Swing
Joel Berry’s 3-pointer with 5:31 on the clock pushed UNC’s lead to 30-13 and appeared to signal the beginning of the end for Arkansas. However, on the Razorbacks’ ensuing possession, Daryl Macon was fouled by Justin Jackson while attempting a corner three. The made basket and the free throw added up to a four-point play, thereby igniting an Arkansas charge.
The Razorbacks closed the half on a 20-8 run, converting 7-of-9 field goal attempts while holding the Tar Heels to 3-of-8 shooting and forcing three turnovers over the final 5:08.
Jackson Breaks Record
The ACC Player of the Year needed just 58 seconds to set the single-season school record for made 3-pointers with 96. He tied Shammond Williams’s previous record in the first half of UNC’s win over Texas Southern on Friday.
UNC advances to its 34th regional semifinal and 28th official Sweet 16 next Friday in Memphis. The Tar Heels will play South Region No. 4 seed Butler (25-8), which defeated No. 13 Winthrop, 76-64, and No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee, 74-65, in Milwaukee.