Trailing by 17 points midway through the second half, Rutgers rallied to cut the deficit to four in the final minutes before No. 10 North Carolina pulled away for a misleading 81-67 win Monday at the Dean Smith Center.
Sophomore guard Mike Rosario led the Scarlet Knights with 22 points, but his 1 for 9 shooting from 3-point range signified Rutgers' poor shooting from long distance. The Scarlet Knights were 3 for 23 from beyond the arc.
Junior Jonathan Mitchell added 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but was also 2 of 9 on 3-point attempts.
Freshman Dexter Strickland led six Tar Heels in double figures with 18 points, including a huge 3-pointer in the final minutes to stem a Rutgers rally.
Rutgers (9-3) saw its six-game winning streak come to an end, but not without a fight in its first road game of the season.
North Carolina (10-3) played without senior Marcus Ginyard. It led 39-33 at the half, and threatened to make a laugher out of it when it used a 10-2 run to break the game open. A lay-up by Tyler Zeller with 12:22 to play pushed the Tar Heels' lead to 63-47, but Rutgers responded swiftly.
Mike Coburn ignited a 10-2 run with a jumper two minutes later as Rutgers got back into striking distance, and Rosario pulled the Scarlet Knights within 71-67 with 2:11 to play on a jumper.
However, Strickland answered 10 seconds later with a 3-pointer that proved to finish off Rutgers, which did not score again.
That Rutgers remained in the contest until the end was remarkable considering the poor 3-point shooting, and the lack of production it received from center Hamady Ndiaye, who entered the game as the nation's leader in blocking shots at 5.73 per game.
Foul trouble limited Ndiaye to 21 minutes, and forced 7-foot freshman Brian Okam and 6-8 freshman Austin Johnson to play the center spot. Okam fouled out in nine minutes, and Johnson had one rebound and did not score in 15 minutes.
Ndiaye finished with nine points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
Rutgers opens Big East play Saturday at home against Cincinnait.