With a more concerted defensive effort and double-figure scoring from five players, North Carolina upset No. 20 UNLV, 79-73, on Saturday afternoon at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
UNLV trailed by nine points at halftime, but worked back to pull even by the middle of the second half. A scoring drought late in the half gave North Carolina a chance to shut the door for good, but it was unable to do so.
That allowed the Rebels to pull within four points with under a minute to play before North Carolina sealed the game from the free throw line.
Without junior Reggie Bullock due to concussion, North Carolina was without one of its better perimeter defenders, but it didn’t seem to hurt the Tar Heels’ level of defensive pressure in the first half.
North Carolina forced 10 turnovers in the first 17 minutes.
Dribble penetration, which was nearly absent in the first half, was the engine of production in the second for the Rebels. Anthony Marshall, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and Anthony Bennett all worked to get to the basket, which opened up opportunities on the perimeter and scoring chances at the rim.
UNLV ripped off a 10-2 run to tie the game at 46 with 14:29 remaining.
North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo was quiet in the first half, but went on his own personal 6-0 run to extend the Tar Heel lead to five.
With the game within one point, 64-63, the UNLV comeback bid was stopped by a cold streak from the floor.
After a Khem Birch layup with 7:33 to go, the Rebels did not score another field goal until the 2:16 mark. Added to that, UNLV struggled from the line, shooting just 11-of-21 on the game.
The offensive balance was important to North Carolina Saturday, with P.J Hairston, Marcus Paige, Dexter Strickland, Brice Johnson, and McAdoo scoring in double figures.
McAdoo finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. Strickland led all scorers with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor.
The Tar Heels shot 51 percent from the floor on the afternoon.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_