UNC stays alive in NCAA tournament with 79-77 victory against Providence

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

— Amid the jubilation inside the North Carolina locker room, Roy Williams walked in and asked for a moment of quiet.

The Tar Heels had rallied twice in the final minutes of a 79-77 victory against Providence in the NCAA tournament. They had advanced, after trailing by seven with 4 1/2 minutes to play, and then by three several times in the final three minutes. Williams had something to say.

First, he introduced David Robinson, the Hall of Fame center who Williams described as one of his favorite people. Robinson dropped by just to offer congratulations. He waved shyly and cracked a line about how they say this is March Madness.

“And you guys brought the madness,” Robinson said.

Then Williams recounted a short story about what he said in the final minutes, his team trailing and its season minutes away from ending. In that moment, surrounded by his players, Williams said, “If you want to be a baby, tell me now.”

The sixth-seeded Tar Heels (24-9) had more than one opportunity to weep, to fold, amid the pressure that this tournament is known to generate. Instead, they persevered for the kind of gritty, tough victory they’ve become accustomed to producing in this long season.

The Tar Heels won with rebounding – they finished with 14 more rebounds than 11th-seeded Providence (23-12), and outscored the Friars 26-13 on second-chance points – but they also won with toughness. Particularly in the final minutes.

UNC advanced to play Iowa State at 5:15 p.m. Sunday.

After trailing by three with one minute and 21 seconds left, the Tar Heels tied it again. James Michael McAdoo then won it with free throws, the second of which came after he rebounded a free throw he missed with two seconds remaining. UNC has been one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country this season, but McAdoo was thinking about that in the final moments.

In his mind, he planned to “just go up there like any other day, like I’ve been working with coach (Hubert) Davis all year. Just me, the ball and the basket. … Hitting the first one always helps.”

He made the first of two with two seconds left, but missed the second when UNC led by a point. The miss, though, bounced hard off the rim and McAdoo followed his shot.

“I just stepped to it and fell right in my hands,” he said with a wide grin.

McAdoo finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds – including two offensive rebounds in the final seconds – and Marcus Paige, the sophomore guard, led the Tar Heels with 19 points. Paige has flourished in the second halves of games this season, and he did again.

Twelve of his 19 points came in the second half and he made two 3-pointers that tied the game in the final few minutes. The first of those tied the game at 71 with 3 minutes and 1 second to play, and the second tied it at 77 with 66 seconds left.

“I feel like that’s the usual for us, at this point,” Paige said, referring to UNC’s ability to come back. “We’ve had to fight back in so many games that we stayed poised. We didn’t panic. We didn’t get our hopes down … we were still in the game, mentally.”

As well as McAdoo and Paige played, Providence’s Bryce Cotton, a senior guard, was the best player on the court. He finished with 36 points – 23 of them in the second half – and he led Providence on an 11-0 run midway through the second half.

During that run, the Friars erased a nine-point deficit and seized control. For a while, it seemed like they wouldn’t relinquish it. Cotton made an array of shots – pull-up jumpers and driving, acrobatic layups – and the last of his three 3-pointers gave Providence a 66-62 lead with 5 minutes and 41 seconds to play.

The Friars later extended the lead to seven, but UNC still had plenty of time. And plenty of fight.

“It was 3:55 (remaining), we were down (five) in the timeout,” Williams said. “I talked about how tough we have to be the last four minutes, and I thought our guys were really tough. Again, they made some big-time plays.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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