Demarcus Holland stuck back his own free throw miss with 4.1 seconds left and a final shot by Marcus Paige rimmed out, giving the Longhorns a three-point road win over a ranked Tar Heel (14/18) team on the road.
That it wound up being that close was a tribute to the way North Carolina played in the second half, and to Texas's struggles with fouls. The Longhorns jumped up 53-42 at halftime, thanks largely to an attacking offense that got to the rim, leading to second-chance points and free throws. Texas made 16-of-20 freebies, and actually out-rebounded North Carolina on that end of the court — 14 offensive rebounds to 10 defensive boards. Overall, Texas had 29 boards to North Carolina's 15 at the half.
But Carolina also put several players in foul trouble, including three fouls apiece on bigs Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh, and two fouls on Cameron Ridley, Kendal Yancy and Damarcus Croaker. Ridley fouled out in the second half, but not before dropping in a key turnaround jumper. And that doesn't count Jonathan Holmes, arguably the Longhorns' best player on the night with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, who only played 11 minutes in the second half with severe cramps.
But there were basketball reasons for the comeback as well. Texas out-raced and outran Carolina in the first half, scoring a number of points before the Tar Heels were set. Carolina did a much better job of getting back in the second, while befuddling the Longhorns in the halfcourt. Texas shot just 37.5 percent from the field in the half, with several of those makes coming at the very end.
Texas led by 10 at 70-60 with less than eight minutes left when the Tar Heels made their run. At the 4:06 mark, a free throw from Nate Britt completed a 12-2 run that tied the game at 72, with Carolina seemingly possessing all the momentum.
That's when Javan Felix took over. The guard was just 4-for-13 on the night, but three of those makes came in the final minutes, including a three to put Texas up 75-72. When North Carolina tied it at 77, Felix buried a jumper in the paint for a two-point lead. Then Felix hit another three to up the lead to five at 82-77.
A Britt free throw cut the lead to four, then Texas was slapped with a strange foul call with 25 seconds left. J.P. Tokoto fouled Isaiah Taylor to send him to the line, but Taylor swung his elbows and, though he didn't appear to connect with anyone, was sized up with a technical foul of his own. Taylor hit both free throws, upping the lead to 84-78, but Paige hit both his free throws as well. Then, with Carolina getting the ball back thanks to the tech, Paige canned a three-pointer to cut the lead to one at 84-83 with 14 seconds left. James Michael McAdoo fouled Holland to send him to the line with seven seconds remaining.
Holland missed both free throws, but the Tar Heels didn't block him out, and he was able to sneak a shot back up that hit the rim before falling through. The Tar Heels were able to get a clean look for Paige at the end, but the shot barely rolled out of the cylinder.
Texas's biggest strength all night was its quickness at guard, with Taylor scoring 16 and Holland adding 15. Felix wound up with 12. Lammert had 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes, including six offensive boards.
Paige had a game-high 23 points and added seven rebounds and three assists. Leslie McDonald, cleared just in time for the Texas game, had 15 while shooting 4-of-9 from three. McAdoo had 11 points and three blocks, but just two rebounds.
Carolina was an outstanding 9-of-19 from three, a great mark for a team that (other than Paige) has truly struggled from the outside this year. But the Tar Heels also killed themselves at the line, getting there a whopping 47 times but making just 24 of those shots. Texas claimed a 51-42 advantage on the glass and a nine-point lead in second-chance points. The Longhorns also held a staggering 40-16 edge in the paint.
Rick Barnes moved on to an amazing 5-1 against Roy Williams since the latter coach moved to North Carolina, including a 4-1 mark in the five-game series played out over the past five seasons.
For its part, Carolina has been a bit Jekyll and Hyde this season, scoring big wins over Louisville on a neutral court, Michigan State by 14 in East Lansing and Kentucky at the Smith Center, while also dropping games to Belmont and UAB. And the Tar Heels showed both of those sides on Wednesday night in getting dominated in the first half, while also making a late game run and almost stealing a contest where the Heels were outplayed for most of the game.
But that was hardly Texas's first close game in the final minutes — the Longhorns have played several contests that were tight with two minutes remaining, including two weeks ago against Temple, when the 'Horns collapsed down the stretch to allow the Owls to reach overtime, before Texas claimed a one-point OT victory.
Texas (10-1) passed its first test against a ranked team this season. The Longhorns will now quickly face their second, when Texas hosts Michigan State (9-1) on Saturday.