Tar Heels slip past Holy Cross, 62-54

CorrespondentNovember 15, 2013 

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UNC's Joel James (42), Isaiah Hicks (22) and J.P. Tokoto (13) stop Holy Cross' Anthony Thompson (2) during the first half at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Marcus Paige picked a good night to put up his career high for North Carolina.

If the sophomore guard hadn’t had 23 points with three 3-pointers in 36 minutes, the No. 12 Tar Heels might have had to explain a shocking upset.

But Paige’s big night, plus one good run in the middle of the second half, turned out to be enough to help North Carolina hold off scrappy Holy Cross 62-54 on Friday night in the first round of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament at Smith Center.

Brice Johnson came off the bench for 12 points, and James Michael McAdoo added 11 for the Tar Heels.

UNC (2-0) was playing its second game without senior Leslie McDonald and junior P.J. Hairston while their NCAA eligibility issues are being evaluated.

“It was a little different game than you probably expected,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “But neither team could make a shot in the first half. Fortunately for us we were a little more patient in the second half and got shots and made shots. I thought Marcus was really good.”

It was the Tar Heels’ first meeting with the Crusaders (1-2) since 1956, during UNC’s legendary undefeated first NCAA championship season. UNC has won two of the teams’ three meetings.

Malachi Alexander had 13 points off the bench and Dave Dudzinski 11 for the Crusaders.

Holy Cross was facing a Top 25 team for the first time since a loss at Connecticut two seasons ago. The Crusaders’ last win over a ranked opponent was a 68-67 win against No. 8 Providence in 1977.

UNC shot 38.3 percent to 29.4 for the Crusaders and eked out a 39-38 advantage on the boards. Holy Cross committed 16 turnovers to the Tar Heels’ nine.

The teams were tied 25-25 after a sloppy first half, in which Paige led the Tar Heels with seven points and Alexander had eight for Holy Cross.

“Coach has confidence in me as a shooter and a scorer, and I felt like I needed to step up (with the two players out),” Paige said. “In the first half we played a lot of ‘me’ ball instead of team ball. We didn’t share it. We didn’t set screens or use screens, and that got us beat badly a couple of times last year.

“In the second half we were able to take our time and get better shots.”

UNC was up 23-12 following an Isaiah Hicks layup at the 3:01 mark before the Crusaders went on a 9-0 run ending in Alexander’s follow shot with 1:21 left in the half. Anthony Thompson’s two free throws with 3.1 left forged the tie.

The Crusaders took their first lead since 1-0 on two free throws by Justin Burrell with 19:03 to go that made it 27-25.

Holy Cross led 32-29 following a Burrell jumper with 16:38 left and then tied it at 35-35 on a Burrell 3-pointer at 13:40. But the Tar Heels responded with a 12-0 run, extending the lead to 47-35 on a 15-foot Paige jumper at 9:27.

“We just came out more determined than we did in the first half,” Johnson said. “In the first half we were passive. But we got a fire under us in the second half.

“We didn’t have much energy in the first half, but in the second we came out and did what we had to do.”

The Crusaders cut the margin to 56-50 before Paige hit both ends of a one-and-one with 58.5 seconds left to get some breathing room.

UNC will host Belmont in the second round of the event at 4 p.m. Sunday. The semifinal game against Richmond on Nov. 23 and a final-round contest Nov. 24 against Louisville or Fairfield will be played at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

See the box score from this game.

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