No. 1 North Carolina blows lead, but avoids upset from No. 8 Arkansas

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, blew a 17-point lead but fortunately had enough time to stave off an upset bid from No. 8 Arkansas.

The Tar Heels advance to the Sweet 16 with a 72-65 win over the Razorbacks on Sunday night in Greenville, South Carolina.

Arkansas not only erased a double-digit deficit, it had the lead coming out of the last official timeout. However, it was North Carolina — not Mike Anderson’s 40 Minutes of Hell — that would clamp down defensively. Over the final 3:30 of regulation, and trailing 65-62, the Tar Heels held the Razorbacks without a single point.

Not to take credit from North Carolina’s execution down the stretch, but the defense was aided by several bad possessions by Arkansas. This game was not without controversy, as well.

With 50 seconds remaining, Joel Berry II collided with two Razorbacks as he drove to the basket. The help-side defender appeared to have drawn a charge. Or, perhaps the primary defender got Berry on the arm. And maybe, Berry traveled after making contact. There were three options for the officials to make the call instead, they swallowed their whistles. Berry threw a dart off the backboard which Kennedy Meeks tipped in to put the Tar Heels up 68-65.

North Carolina ran out to a 17-point lead in the first half due to mistakes by Arkansas and owning the offensive glass. The Tar Heels have arguably the best rebounding team in the country, while the Razorbacks allow opponents to corral 34 percent of their missed shots according to kenpom. North Carolina came down with 14 offensive rebounds in the first half. In the second half, Arkansas reversed that trend and kept the Tar Heels to one shot as it began its comeback effort.

Arkansas defense flummoxed North Carolina, holding the Tar Heels to 38 percent shooting and 29 percent from three. Berry and Justin Jackson combined to shoot 7-of-27 from the field.

Meeks led the team with 16 points, followed by Jackson’s 15. Daryl Macon had 19 points off the bench in a losing effort.

North Carolina will play No. 4 seed Butler next week in the Sweet 16 in Memphis.