Conversely, Tennessee was held to a frosty 36.7 shooting percentage (11-for-30) in the decisive opening stanza and North Carolina (2-1) scored 20 points off UT turnovers. The Tar Heels shot 58.8 percent from the field in the game, making 30-of-51 field goal attempts.
Tennessee (1-1) was led by true freshmen guard Chris Lofton who scored 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting from three-point range. Lofton's long-range assault kept the Vols within striking range in the second half and a pair of free throws by C.J. Watson cut Carolina's lead to 82-69 with 4:53 left to play. However, UT never got closer but did force coach Roy Williams to keep his starters in until the last minute of play.
The Vols shot 44 percent from the field (27-for-61), 39 percent from three-point range (11-for-28) and 80 percent from the foul line (16-for-20), but couldn't overcome a slow start and numerous turnovers caused by Carolina's on-ball pressure.
"Their pressure got to us a little bit and we took some quick shots, and pressure will do that," Buzz Peterson said. "Carolina defends and they have weapons and depth and when McCants gets it going there aren't many players that talented in the country."
Peterson, who saw his record fall to 0-3 against his alma mater, was pleased his team continued to fight through the second half despite facing a double-digit deficit.
"We could have hung our heads down 20 in the first half, but they kept on fighting," he said. "We have to get the ball inside for higher-percentage shots and we ran our offense more that way in the second half."
With the win the Tar Heels advance to the title game against Iowa which knocked off No. 15 Texas in Tuesday's other semifinal. The Vols will play their third game in as many days Wednesday against Texas. Tennessee plays its home opener next Monday against Wofford.