Carolina for the 37th time in program history has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, following today’s 93-86 overtime win over #1 seed, Baylor. The Tar Heels survived a furious comeback from the defending national champs, as they erased a 25 point deficit in the final 10 minutes to force the overtime session. The comeback followed a questionable ejection of Brady Manek, who committed a Flagrant 2 foul that saw him ejected from the game, after having scored 26 points in the game. Caleb Love would foul out with over 5 minutes left in regulation, and as Baylor ramped up the pressure, Carolina folded like a napkin at a holiday meal. With the crowd and the momentum on their side, it didn’t seem likely that Carolina would pull out the win. Dontrez Styles made a 3 pointer to give UNC a 3 point advantage, followed by a 3 point play by Davis that catapulted Carolina to the win. Factor in that Baylor was just 1-11 from the field in the extra 5 minutes, it was apparent Carolina wanted the game more than the Bears.
Carolina is now 9-5 as an #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, having upset #1 seeds three times in the process. Speaking of beating #1 seeds, today’s win over #1 Baylor, makes it the ninth time UNC has defeated a #1 seed in the Big Dance, tied for the most of all time with Duke.
Today’s win was unlike any other, as Carolina controlled the game from the onset, then had to fend off a team that was desperately trying to keep their title defense alive. For the game, UNC shot 49% from the field, compared to just 35% for the Bears. Carolina was also sharp from behind the three-point line, going 11-25 (44%), meanwhile, Baylor was 9-37 (24%), from distance. UNC also won the rebounding margin, 47-38, despite being out-rebounded 16-10 on the offensive glass.
This team was left for dead in January, after blowout losses to Miami and Wake Forest in the same. Then after a disappointing home loss to Pittsburgh in the middle of February, making the NCAA Tournament seemed like a longshot. Since then, all this team has done, is win a game at Virginia Tech, spoil Coach K’s home finale, and now win multiple games in the NCAA Tournament, and with that, they have written their own stories and testimonies, something that means everything to their head coach:
R.J. Davis: Davis scored a career-high 30 points, on 8-17 shooting, including making a team-high 5 triples. Davis played the entire game, and Carolina needed every bit of them, as Love was struggling from the field, before fouling out. Davis’ three-point play in overtime, extended the lead to six, and effectively ended the game. It’s safe to say that after today’s performance, Davis is as Roy Williams used to say “a tough little nut”
Brady Manek: Before being ejected for a questionable flagrant foul, Manek scored 26 points, on 8-13 shooting. Manek joins a list of Tar Heels that includes Phil Ford, and Michael Jordan, of UNC players to score 26 points or more, in back-to-back NCAA Tournament games.
Second Half Collapse: Carolina had built a 25 point lead that didn’t seem to be able to be erased, but the ejection of Manek changed the final 10 minutes of regulation. Baylor utilized a full-court press that UNC didn’t handle very well, and with that now on tape, you can expect the next opponent to experiment with just that. Baylor finished the end of regulation on a 38-13 run to force the overtime period.
Overtime: After blowing a 25 point lead, momentum wasn’t on the side of Carolina, but that changed with a triple made by freshman Dontrez Styles. Davis would add a three-point play that would put the game away. Baylor was only 1-11 from the field, as the Heels played great team defense without fouling in the extra period.
Bench: Extended minutes were needed from the bench tonight, and they delivered. Styles played a career-high 25 minutes, scored 9 points, and grabbed 3 rebounds. Justin McKoy may have turned the ball over 3 times, but his length on the defensive end was a bonus, as Carolina was running out of players the longer the game went. Hubert Davis hasn’t played his bench much during the last month and a half, but it’s been great to see guys being ready to step up when called upon.
Up Next: Carolina will take on the winner of UCLA/Saint Mary’s next week in Philadelphia. The date and time for the Sweet 16 matchup, has yet to be announced.
The Four Corners Podcast: