For more than 30 minutes of Saturday’s game between No. 4 North Carolina and No. 5 Arkansas, it looked like it could come down to a buzzer beater. It took a gutsy effort by UNC to make it to the Sweet 16, advancing with an 87-78 win.
The first half of this game may have been the fastest paced game of the entire tournament. Neither team held the ball deep into the shot clock as there was a combined 30 shots in the first 8 minutes. Both teams seemed careless with the ball at times and fast breaks were one after another. Arkansas would lead by 6 early, but they could not hold it. The second half would slow down a bit as it took a little over 14 minutes to reach 30 shots. Malcolm Qualls for Arkansas led all players in this one with 27 points. He was able to complete a 4-point play in the second half that made it a one-point game. Bobby Portis struggled in the first half, but started to hit some shots in the second half. It was just not enough for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas had just taken the lead after a huge 3-pointer that put the Razorbacks up 59-58. Sparked by an and-1 by Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels put on a run that the Razorbacks could never come back from. Paige followed the and-1 with two 3-pointers that would stretch the lead to 10. Two more free throws from Paige would put the lead all the way up to 75-63. It did not bode well for Arkansas that it was held without a field goal for 6 minutes while Paige was heating up. The Tar Heels were able to repeatedly get to the charity stripe and take advantage of what Arkansas was giving them. Up until this point the game could have gone wither way, but then North Carolina took the game by the reigns.
Paige, the Tar Heels’ leader, was able to step up when it mattered. He single-handedly went on a 11-2 run in a three-minute span as the Tar Heels were able to stretch the lead to double digits with a little over 7 minutes to go. After a disappointing first half of the game, the junior guard stepped up and scored all but two of his points in the second half. He went to the locker room hitting just one of his eight shots, but finished with hitting four of his six shots in the second half. He also was perfect from the free throw line, sinking all nine of his attempts
The spark provided by Paige gave the Tar Heels the biggest edge of the game as both teams had exchanged the lead 11 times up to that point. He finished with 22 points and 5 steals.
Strange, Yet True
The last time the Razorbacks were in the tournament in 2008, the Tar Heels knocked them out.
With the victory, Roy Williams tied Dean Smith for most all-time wins in the tournament with 65. He will look to take sole possession of second place on Thursday. Williams only trails Coach K who currently has 82 tournament wins.
North Carolina will face the winner of the Wisconsin-Oregon game played tomorrow on Thursday in the Sweet 16.
Arkansas’ season comes to an end with a 27-9 record.