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North Carolina (14-13, 3-9 ACC) jumped out to an early 13-5 lead, but Boston College (13-13, 4-8 ACC) stormed back and took a 37-36 lead into halftime. The Tar Heels then scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half, before the Eagles caught fire and built a 63-53 lead by the conclusion of the pivotal 24-7 run.
UNC closed the deficit to 67-65 on Larry Drew's driving layup and accompanying free throw with 1:38 remaining, but that would be as close as boys in blue would get in losing their fourth-straight road game.
Deon Thompson led North Carolina with 17 points and nine rebounds, while John Henson added 11 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Reggie Jackson scored 13 of his team-high 17 points after intermission to pace the Eagles. Corey Raji added 16 points and five rebounds and Rakim Sanders contributed 14 points and six rebounds.
Boston College connected on 40.3 percent of its field goal attempts (27-of-67) compared to North Carolina's 39.1 percent mark (25-of-64). The Eagles also outrebounded the Tar Heels, 43-39.
INSIDE THE GAME
Neither of these programs own impressive – or in some cases, even mediocre – conference statistics, so Saturday presented an opportunity for one school to enjoy a temporary vacation from its daily doldrums. North Carolina's field goal percentage ranks 11th in league play (40.5), while Boston College's field goal percentage held down the cellar spot with a 47.2 mark prior to tip.
Someone was destined to have a relatively strong day, if only by default, and that team ended up being the Eagles. North Carolina missed 39 of its 64 field goal attempts, and only seven of those misses occurred outside the 3-point line.
The Tar Heels rolled out four players 6-foot-9 or taller, while Boston College's lone player over 6-foot-8 – Josh Southern – played just eight minutes. But that advantage on paper didn't carry over to the court as well one might have expected.
Rebounding totals aside, North Carolina failed to convert on numerous attempts around the basket, most of the time due to contact down low. But open looks were also wasted, including Tyler Zeller's near air ball in what should have been an easy dunk.
Failing to convert with a size advantage that boasted 21 offensive rebounds is devastating for a team struggling to put any kind of points on the scoreboard. Those offensive rebounds resulted in just 24 second-chance points for the Tar Heels.
"That gets real frustrating," Henson told reporters in the locker room, sitting with an ice pack on his left knee after coming down wrong on a rebound. "I think we've just got to take our time and focus on putting it in the hole, because that seems to be the problem."
A Second Wind Exhaled
If there was ever any hope of North Carolina making a memorable final run for the NCAA Tournament, it began and ended at Conte Forum on Saturday.
"I thought we'd get on a great run and be in the NCAA Tournament," UNC head coach Roy Williams said in his postgame press conference. "Now I've got to readjust and see if we can get it done by starting on Wednesday night… I did last night say, ‘Alright, we're 3-8, let's win five in a row and 8-8 will get us in.' But we didn't get the first step done."
But, as has been the case far too many times this season, the Tar Heels lacked the necessary intensity and sense of urgency during several stretches against the Eagles, when 40 minutes of emotional effort were required.
"You've got to frickin' play," Williams said. "If my back's against the wall and I'm getting my tail kicked, I'm going to fight you until I frickin' die."
The Hall of Fame head coach wasn't alone in his belief that a miracle was possible, as Thompson indicated that the players had also bought into the potential for a five-game winning streak.
"We definitely believed that," the senior forward said. "We came into this game believing that. We believed it at halftime. It just didn't come."
When asked if those hopes made this loss hurt even more, Thompson responded, "Yes, definitely."
North Carolina received some rare good news on Friday afternoon when Williams told reporters that sophomore forward Tyler Zeller would play against the Eagles for the first time since a stress fracture in the third metatarsal of his right foot was discovered in a bone scan on Jan. 14.
"It felt good, just a little slow and everything," Zeller replied when asked about his return. "[I've] just got to get back to getting in the right spot on defensive and offensively finishing plays. I've just got to get back to where I was."
The Washington, Ind. product indicated after the game that his right foot "feels good."
Zeller nearly matched his season averages with nine points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
"I thought ‘Z' was okay in his first game back," Williams said. "He hasn't played in roughly six weeks. It was a little difficult for him. I didn't feel like I had much of a choice, to be honest with you… ‘Z' was okay, but it would be better if he had some more experience."