UNC’s 2017 NCAA tournament path to the championship game Monday night against Gonzaga ran through Texas Southern, Arkansas, Butler, Kentucky and Oregon.
UNC 103, No. 16 Texas Southern 64
UNC coach Roy Williams improved to 27-0 all-time in opening round games of the NCAA tournament with a rout of the Southwestern Athletic Conference champion. Junior wing Justin Jackson led the Tar Heels with 21 points. Six different players scored at least double-figures and 12 different players got into score line in the box score.
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The Tar Heels doubled up the Tigers on the glass (54-27) and held TSU’s top player, Zach Lofton, to nine points on 2-of-11 shooting.
UNC 72, No. 8 Arkansas 65
UNC jumped out to an early 30-13 lead before the Razorbacks cut the Tar Heels’ lead down to 38-33 at the half. Arkansas, behind its frenetic pressing style, surged ahead 65-60, but the Heels scored the game’s final 12 points for the dramatic win.
Senior forward Kennedy Meeks (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Jackson (15 points, 5 assists) did the heavy lifting while point guard Joel Berry struggled from the floor (2-of-13).
“I don’t mind saying I feel a little lucky,” Williams said.
UNC 92, No. 4 Butler 80
After the tester against the Razorbacks, the Heels left little in doubt with a 52-point outburst in the first half.
Sophomore forward Luke Maye took his first star turn with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Berry rebounded from a subpar Arkansas game with 26 points. Maye wasn’t ready to step out of the spotlight, though.
UNC 75, No. 2 Kentucky 73
Maye’s jumper broke a 73-73 tie with 0.3 seconds left in a taut, back-and-forth classic between national powers. Maye took a pass from Theo Pinson in the final sequence as Williams let his players go without calling a timeout. Maye’s shot found nothing but net, and UNC, a year after losing on a buzzer-beater to Villanova in the championship game, had its own shining moment.
Jackson scored a team-best 19 points and his defense on Kentucky guard Malik Monk, who scored 47 in a Kentucky win during the regular-season, set the stage for Maye’s last-second heroics.
UNC 77, No. 3 Oregon 76
UNC didn’t play its best, but Meeks wouldn’t let the Tar Heels go home. With a size advantage over the more athletic Ducks, Meeks scored 25 points, on 11-of-13 shooting, and had 14 rebounds. No rebound was bigger than off a free-throw miss by Berry in the final seconds with UNC clinging to a one-point lead.
Jackson had 22 points and again was instrumental on defense again. UNC held Oregon’s top two guards, Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, to 5-of-22 from the floor.