"I did a poor job coaching," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters following the 83-80 loss. "It's on me."
Following a pair of last minute threes by J.J. Mann to cut Belmont's deficit to 80-78 with 54 seconds left, UNC worked through the shot clock before Marcus Paige turned the ball over in the paint with 20 seconds left. Bruins head coach Rick Byrd drew up a play to give Mann one more look near the top of the key and the senior worked off a screen to drain the game-winning trey with 14 seconds to play.
Belmont connected on 15-of-37 3-pointers, capitalizing early on open perimeter looks due to defensive confusion. In the first half, UNC was supposed to be squeezing the ball screen and have the guard fight under it, but certain players hedged instead as normal, according to forward Brice Johnson.
"That's what we've been preaching the whole time," Johnson said. "We really didn't go over squeezing the ball. Kennedy [Meeks] and Isaiah [Hicks] really didn't know what to do, so that really hurt us."
Belmont took a 58-48 lead with 13:13 left after converting 10 of its first 26 3-pointers, which prompted Williams to instruct his players to switch on the ball screen. The plan worked as the Bruins missed seven of their next eight 3-pointers as UNC rallied to build a 75-67 lead with 3:15 to play.
Byrd countered Williams's strategic move with a unique screen approach.
"Towards the end, we had been switching everything, that's what got us back in the game," Paige said. "Then they started going to these little dribble hand-offs, which were a little harder to switch because you don't know if your guy is going to fake the hand-off or not."
Belmont drilled its final four 3-pointers, including Mann's game-winner out of the dribble hand-off.
The Tar Heels still had 14 seconds to work with, but instead of calling a timeout, Williams allowed his team to push ahead.
"I've always had the philosophy that if the other team scores to take the lead, if it's more than seven seconds, we don't call a timeout, we attack right then because we've got the ball in the open court," Williams said. "I wanted Marcus to go get the ball, but I haven't practiced it enough. We didn't execute at that point and that's my fault."
Panic reigned over poise in those final seconds. Johnson threw the ball into Luke Davis, not Paige, and the backup point guard passed ahead to J.P. Tokoto down the left sideline. The sophomore wing drove to the left elbow before bobbling the ball and ultimately shooting a turnaround with five seconds left.
"I took a dribble to the middle," Tokoto explained. "I saw Marcus curling around the perimeter and was about to hit him. That's why you saw the ball pop out. I realized his man was shadowing him so I knew he'd get a hand on it if I threw it to him right then.
"I caught it back and mentally I was just like, ‘Okay, three seconds left.' I was counting in my head so I let it go, put it up to the rim and hopefully we get an offensive rebound at least if it didn't go in. I mean it just didn't go in. Just one of those shots."
Drew Windler rebounded the miss and threw the ball toward his own basket, where Caleb Chowbay grabbed the ball and laid it in as the clock ran out.
Belmont outscored UNC 13-2 over the final 2:37. Sunday's loss was only the second nonconference home loss under Williams. The last time UNC lost a nonconference game at home was to Illinois (68-64) on Nov. 29, 2005.