With a 26-12 lead at the under-8 timeout, No. 4 North Carolina looked to be well on its way to a comfortable win over No. 13 Harvard. Not only were the Tar Heels getting most of what they wanted on offense, but outside of Wesley Saunders the Crimson weren’t productive at all on the offensive end. However things changed, as Tommy Amaker’s team was able to control tempo and slowly fight their way back into the game.
But even with that being the case, Harvard could not pull off the upset. A Justin Jackson dunk with 23.5 seconds remaining proved to be the difference, as a Saunders three in the final seconds missed the mark. Roy Williams’ team picked up the 67-65 win in Jacksonville, and with that comes the opportunity to face either No. 5 Arkansas or No. 12 Wofford Saturday in a West Region matchup.
Jackson led the Tar Heels with 14 points, and as a team they shot 55.1 percent from the field. The issue for North Carolina offensively wasn’t their shooting, but rather the fact that they were unable to speed the game up. And playing at a slower tempo resulted in North Carolina forcing things at times, and their 17 turnovers were converted into 29 points by the Crimson.
That turnover count will be of even greater importance on Saturday, especially if they get matched up with the pressing Razorbacks. North Carolina may prefer a faster pace, but they cannot afford to be as loose with the basketball as they were Thursday night.
Saunders, who kept Harvard afloat in the first half with 15 points, finished his college career with a stellar 26-point, four-rebound and five-assist performance with point guard Siyani Chambers adding 13 points, three rebounds and three assists. But their efforts weren’t enough in the end, as North Carolina was able to do enough defensively in the final 50 seconds to escape with the win and keep Williams’ record in NCAA tournament openers (25-0) unblemished.