It wasn't exactly “no Joel Berry, no problem” for North Carolina here on Wednesday night, at least not early against Davidson and not late, either, after the Wildcats kept coming back, and back, after the Tar Heels led by as many as 16 points near the midway point of the second half.
What began to look like a rout at that point turned into a close game – a five-point UNC lead with a little less than three minutes to play. And then it was a three-point game with less than two minutes remaining, the Wildcats in the midst of a 9-0 run over a span of nearly three minutes.
From there, though, a pair of Kennedy Meeks free throws pushed the Tar Heels' lead back to five, they came up with a defensive stop and then held on, tightly, for an 83-74 victory that seemed a lot more difficult than it had to be.
With one minute remaining, the crowd at the Smith Center was on its feet, urging the Tar Heels on, releasing some tension. Isaiah Hicks rebounded Nate Britt's off-target 3-point attempt and, fouled on the play, Hicks made a pair of free throws to push the lead back to seven.
UNC could exhale, if only for a bit. The Tar Heels, led by Justin Jackson's 27 points, seemed in control throughout the second half. That is, until they were no longer. Davidson went from trailing by 12 points with 5 ½ minutes to play to down three, an upset within reach, with less than two minutes left.
But UNC found a way to hold on, thanks in large part to Jackson's performance. He made seven 3-pointers, three more than he'd ever made in a college game, and three of those came in the second half, with the Wildcats trying to chip away into a deficit that for a long stretch was double-digits wide.
Jackson's 3-pointers helped UNC keep its cushion – one that shrunk, nonetheless, in the final minutes. Four of his 3-pointers came in the first half and three of those came in the final 10 minutes of the first half, after the Tar Heels recovered from a slow start that left coach Roy Williams pulling his starters.
UNC was without Berry, the junior point guard who is the team's second-leading scorer. He suffered a sprained ankle during a victory on Sunday against Radford. Britt, the senior, started in his absence and finished with six assists but missed all eight of his attempts from the field.
Seventh Woods, the freshman, came off the bench to play 11 minutes.
At times it was a sluggish, sloppy affair for the Tar Heels, who shot 37.7 percent. Jackson's shooting was the brightest of the bright spots, though, and he finished one 3-pointer short of tying the single-game school record for 3s.
UNC, it turned out, needed just about every one of them – especially when it was a three-point game with less than two minutes remaining.