No. 7 North Carolina gets late block, edges Tennessee 73-71
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Nate Britt hasn’t been able to make up for the offense and shooting touch lost with North Carolina’s starting point guard sidelined by an ankle injury.
Still, the senior was good enough in the final minutes of a tight game to help the No. 7 Tar Heels complete a big comeback — with some help from a couple of freshmen.
Rookie big man Tony Bradley Jr. blocked a shot in the final seconds to help the Tar Heels rally from 15 down to beat Tennessee 73-71 on Sunday, a performance that Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams described as “a struggle.”
With Joel Berry II missing his second straight game due to a sprained left ankle suffered last weekend, Britt finished with 11 points and shot just 4 of 14, but he also had seven assists and a career-high five steals.
“I talked to (assistant coach Hubert) Davis after practice yesterday and he was telling me: The shots will come ... but you’ve got to lose yourself in the game,” Britt said. “You can do so much more than just knock down shots.”
Britt has started with Berry out, but went 0 for 8 against Davidson. Justin Jackson scored 27 points and hit seven 3-pointers to carry the offense that night, but he shot just 3 of 15 Sunday — though he had the go-ahead driving score with 2:14 left.
While Kenny Williams III led UNC with 12 points, Bradley finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds while fellow freshman Brandon Robinson tipped in a missed drive by Britt with 52.4 seconds left for a three-point lead.
Roy Williams was irked by his team’s play in the Davidson win. He wasn’t much happier Sunday.
“I approach it like we stunk it up, and we made a couple of plays at the end,” he said.
Robert Hubbs III had 21 points to lead the Volunteers (4-4), who led 30-15 early and shot 65 percent in the first half before finishing at 52 percent. But UNC had 22 offensive boards and scored 25 second-chance points to offset its 40-percent shooting.
“We told our team at halftime: if we’re going to win the game, we’re going to have to do it by rebounding the ball,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We didn’t do it. Carolina just played volleyball with it.”
Tennessee: The Volunteers repeatedly came up big shots to answer UNC’s pushes in the second half. But rebounding and the 3-for-13 shooting from 3-point range was too much to overcome.
“Like I told them, it’s easy to go in the locker room and say, ‘We did this, we did that,’ but the fact is we came to win and we didn’t,” Barnes said. “I don’t want them to feel good about being close in games. We’ve got to figure out a way to get over the hump.”
UNC: The Tar Heels badly miss Berry’s floor leadership, scoring ability and toughness to finish through contact. That was especially glaring with Jackson struggling and the front line of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks combining for 15 points and nine boards.
While Roy Williams wouldn’t focus on Berry’s absence, Britt was asked about his takeaway from the past two games of playing without Berry.
“You could see how much we need him,” Britt said.
Tennessee had a last chance to tie as Lamonte Turner drove toward the basket. The 6-foot-10 Bradley blocked the shot and grabbed the loose ball in what amounted to the Volunteers’ last real shot.
“The point guard was dribbling toward me kind of fast so I knew just to try to help,” Bradley said. “I put my hand up and the ball hit my hand, and I got the rebound. It happened so fast.”
The Tar Heels didn’t look particularly sharp in two wins this week. Could that cost them some votes in the new AP Top 25 released Monday?
Tennessee: The Volunteers host Tennessee Tech on Tuesday night.
UNC: The Tar Heels play their second straight against a Southeastern Conference opponent in a marquee matchup against No. 6 Kentucky on Saturday in Las Vegas.
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