North Carolina and Providence traded comebacks and impressive rallies on Friday night, and the Tar Heels had the final one during their 79-77 victory against the Friars in the NCAA tournament. Here’s the story of the game.
The Tar Heels on Sunday will play Iowa State in the round of 32. At stake: a trip to New York City and the East regional semifinals. There will be lots to discuss about the game against Iowa State. For now, some thoughts …
1. The Tar Heels found their rebounding, and their toughness.
UNC had lost two consecutive games entering the NCAA tournament, and during those defeats – against Duke and then Pittsburgh – their lack of toughness and rebounding was evident. It was so evident that coach Roy Williams spent days and days trying to reinvigorate his team, and inspire that sense of urgency that carried the Tar Heels during their long winning streak. UNC rediscovered its toughness on Friday night, particularly when it erased a seven-point deficit in about two minutes – and then came back twice more after trailing by three points in the final minutes. And the rebounding? The Tar Heels finished with 14 more rebounds than Providence (40-26) and they held a 21-9 edge in offensive rebounding.
2. Hello again, UNC role players.
3. The Tar Heels had no answer for Bryce Cotton but they kept their poise nonetheless.
What a game for Cotton. He finished with 36 points – 23 of them in the second half – and he made several zany, crazy shots. It was fun to watch. Unless you were Roy Williams. Or a UNC player, coach, administrator or fan. In which case it was probably not all that fun to watch. Cotton played with a sense of possession in the second half. He carried Providence, and the Friars thrived off his energy. That’s a dangerous thing for opposing teams, when a player of Cotton’s caliber goes off like he did today during the second half. Cotton wasn’t to be denied, but just when Providence seemed to be on the verge of pulling away the Tar Heels fought back.
Iowa State shot better and did a better job of getting to the free throw line. The story of the game, at least statistically, was UNC’s rebounding – and particularly its offensive rebounding. The Tar Heels, again, held a 21-9 edge in offensive rebounding. That led to a lot of second, and sometimes third, chances.
The Tar Heels, the No. 6 seed in the East, advanced to play third-seeded Iowa State on Sunday at 5:15. The Cyclones defeated N.C. Central, 93-75, but it came with a cost. Iowa State during its victory on Friday lost forward Georges Niang for the season with a broken foot. He’s the Cyclones third-leading scorer.