Rice single-handedly outscored the Tar Heels 20-10 during a 5-minute, 19-second stretch in the first 10 minutes of the game, en route to dropping 34 points on 10-of-15 (8-of-9 on 3-pointers) in guiding the Eagles to a 54-40 halftime lead.
His 46 points were the most ever against North Carolina (27-2, 12-2 ACC) in an ACC contest and were the third-highest in any game, including the most since Georgia Tech’s Rick Yunkus dropped 47 points on the Heels back on Feb. 4, 1970.
“I’ve sat there and watched the other team score a lot of points and have one guy score a lot of points…,” head coach Roy Williams said of Rice’s performance. “But I will say that that was about as impressive as anything that I’ve ever seen.”
Tyler Hansbrough (nine rebounds) scored 17 of his 25 points in the first half to keep his North Carolina teammates within striking distance, but when Boston College (13-14, 4-10) scored the first four points after the break to open up a 58-40 lead with 19:20 remaining, Wayne Ellington (20 points) and Danny Green (18 points, seven rebounds) finally rose to occasion.
The duo sparked a 22-3 run to give North Carolina its first lead of the game at 62-61 only eight minutes later, and they combined to outscored the Eagles 28-26 in the second half.
“We were down 14 [at the half] and I promised them that we would be there at the end, but they had to play…,” Williams said. “I really believe that our defense was the biggest part of the game then. We got several turnovers and we converted on the other end, and then all of a sudden, it got to be a game.
“I felt like if we could get it inside 10 [points] inside the 10-minute mark, we’d have a great shot at the game, and we got there a lot quicker than that.”
Rice’s hot hand cooled off following his 42nd point with the Eagles clinging to a 67-66 lead with 8:42 remaining. Without the Richmond, Va. product knocking down shots, head coach Al Skinner’s squad was defenseless against the more talented Tar Heels, who extended their second-half run to 42-12 to put their twelfth conference win in the books.
“We just had to be more aware of where he was,” junior wing Marcus Ginyard said about holding Rice to 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting in the second half. “I felt like in the first half we were just losing him in transition – not finding him, not getting up to him and things like that. So we just had to focus more on always touching him [and] just always knowing where he was.”
The Eagles shot 50 percent for the game, but came back to reality with a 38.5 field goal percentage (10-of-26) in the final 20 minutes after knocking down 60.7 percent (17-of-28) of their shots in the first half. North Carolina’s statistics worked in the opposite direction, finishing at 50.8 percent shooting (30-of-59) for the game with a 61.3 percent mark (19-of-31) in the final period.
The Tar Heels have connected on at least 50 percent of their field goals in each of their last five outings.
Seemingly lost in the hoopla surrounding Rice’s dominant first-half performance and North Carolina’s second-half comeback was the return of the Tar Heels’ starting point guard.
“It was fun to have Ty Lawson back in the game,” Williams said. “Needless to say, he didn’t play the way he was capable of playing, but it’s good to get him a few minutes and I think that will help us a great deal down the line.”
Lawson managed four points and five assists against just one turnover in 21 minutes, and helped contain Rice’s hot hand over the final 15 minutes of the game. His ankle injury – which has stemmed conspiracy-level debates in certain circles in the four weeks since it occurred in Tallahassee – now appears to be in the past for the Clinton, Md. sophomore.
“It feels a lot better,” Lawson said. “It felt better today than it did yesterday. I was kind of timid at first, but just playing and probably the intensity [of the game], it started to feel a lot better, like normal.”