The Longhorns built a 54-41 halftime lead after the first 17 minutes of play delivered 11 lead changes and six ties. Damion James posted 25 points and 15 rebounds and Dexter Pittman added 23 points and 15 rebounds (12 offensive) in leading Texas (10-0) to its 10th-straight double-digit victory of the season.
Ed Davis scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds for North Carolina. Tyler Zeller (16 points, three rebounds), Marcus Ginyard (13 points, five rebounds) and Dexter Strickland (12 points) also reach double figures. The Tar Heels connected on 48 percent (36-of-75) of their field goal attempts while holding Texas to 41.4 percent (36-of-87), but the Longhorns owned the glass, 60-41.
Texas freshman guards Avery Bradley (20 points) and J’Covan Brown (21 points) set new career highs in scoring.
It was the most points the Tar Heels (8-3) have allowed in regulation since Roy Williams returned home for the 2003-04 campaign. Wake Forest scored 119 in a triple-overtime victory in December 2003.
INSIDE THE GAME
Yet Another Game-Defining Run
When Dexter Strickland knocked down two free throws with 6:38 remaining before halftime to give North Carolina a 34-31 lead, there was reason to believe that the Tar Heels could be able to pull the upset against the second-ranked Longhorns.
But it didn’t take long after that for the memories of Syracuse’s 25-3 and Kentucky’s 28-2 runs to come into focus. After all, North Carolina was playing in a hostile setting once again, right?
Texas standout Damion James finally emerged from an early-game slumber to jumpstart a 23-7 spurt to close the first half, scoring seven points down the stretch to unsettle the Tar Heels’ nerves.
Defensively, North Carolina made several errors during the run, such as failing to rotate on the perimeter and allowing Jordan Hamilton to knock down a wide-open 3-pointer, as well as failing to seal the baseline in what ended up being an easy reverse layup by Avery Bradley.
Offensively, the Tar Heels panicked, forcing bad shots and clogging the lanes in transition.
UNC head coach Roy Williams turned to his bench during the spurt and yelled, “You don’t have to make a play by yourself – move the ball!”
Williams went into further detail on the final six minutes in the postgame press conference, saying, “All of a sudden, we took about two of the most unbelievable… I wouldn’t even call them shots. One of John [Henson’s], I don’t even know what that was.”
Things went from bad to worse in the closing 14 seconds of the half. A Strickland turnover led to Texas pounding the ball inside and two offensive rebounds later, James added another bucket. Then Bradley stole the inbounds pass from Thompson for a quick lay-up just before the horn sounded.
“We needed somebody to step up and slow them down,” Zeller said. “We just can’t let people go on runs like we’ve let them do.”
North Carolina’s expected advantage entering Saturday’s Texas-sized showdown revolved around its post size and depth. With Texas playing 6-foot-7 Damion James primarily at the 4-spot, the Longhorns lone tall option in the post was 6-foot-10, 290-pound Dexter Pittman.
But while the Tar Heels rotated five players 6-foot-10 or taller, James and Pittman combined to dominate the paint to the tune of a 60-41 rebounding advantage. Both Longhorns pulled down 15 boards a piece, including 17 on the offensive glass.
“Pittman’s very big, very strong,” Zeller said. “He’s hard to move. They’re just a good team. We’ve got to find a way to be able to match their intensity on the boards and hopefully cover that gap.”
Davis provided a more direct response, saying, “They just wanted it more than us.”
Texas finished with 27 second chance points compared to UNC’s 11, a discrepancy greater than the Longhorn’s margin of victory. Six of those points occurred on put-backs after Texas air balls.
“We actually told our guys that blocking out’s not enough – you’ve got to go get it,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said.
Saturday marks the third time this season that North Carolina has lost the rebounding battle (37-33 vs. Ohio State, 39-37 vs. Kentucky). The Tar Heels equaled Michigan State in boards, 39-39, on Dec. 1.
When asked about the 60-41 rebounding edge for Texas, Thompson replied, “Maybe we’re not as good as everyone thought we were.”
Figuring out how Texas took a 54-41 lead into halftime didn’t take much effort on Saturday.
The Longhorns led the Tar Heels in seven statistical categories after 20 minutes of action – points in the paint (32-20), turnovers (5-9), points off turnovers (12-5), second-chance points, (16-9), fast break points (10-2), bench scoring (22-15) and rebounding (34-25).