An already tough road trip almost got worse for No. 9 North Carolina as they rallied late to beat Kansas State, 80-70, on Tuesday night in the championship game of the CBE Classic.
Plagued by the perimeter shooting issues that hurt them last season, the Tar Heels shot only 28 percent (6-for-21) from 3-point range and also had difficulty defending the 3-point line as Kansas State shot 50 percent (8-for-16) from distance.
But the Tar Heels went on a 21-3 run over the final 4:24 to close out the game as Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Theo Pinson scored on four consecutive possessions to deliver the final blow for North Carolina.
Much like the loss to Northern Iowa over the weekend, North Carolina had a difficult time trailing talented perimeter shooters as Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes went 6-for-8 from 3-point range to finish with 24 points.
This time, however, the Tar Heels took the best shot that the Wildcats could deliver and stayed tough as Berry’s 3-pointer out of a baseline out-of-bounds play seemed to ignite the North Carolina offense with 3:03 left.
From there, Jackson delivered a clutch runner for the tie and Meeks’ steal and score on the ensuing Kansas State possession proved to be the go-ahead bucket. With Marcus Paige still out with injury, Jackson stepped up as the go-to guy for North Carolina once again as he finished with 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Meeks added 15 points while Pinson finished with 11 and Brice Johnson added 10 points.
Kansas State has to feel like they let this one slip away, especially with a strong contingent of fans in Kansas City for the game. Turnovers in key situations really hurt the Wildcats in the final minutes as they couldn’t free up shooters like Stokes after he was red-hot for most of the game.
Perimeter shooting will continue to be a major question for North Carolina as the season moves along, but that should hopefully improve for them once Paige returns to the lineup and gives them another floor spacer. North Carolina’s late burst on offense — fueled in-part by some turnovers created by the defense — was certainly impressive, but they can’t expect that kind of late and furious rally to happen against elite teams.