North Carolina knew that if it wanted to beat Texas in the Las Vegas Invitational’s first game on Thanksgiving Day, it couldn’t turn the ball over.
Coming into the game, Texas forced 18 turnovers per game, which was ranked 35th in the country.
But despite that, UNC still struggled. Texas forced UNC into 17 turnovers, 14 in the first half, in a 92-89 victory over the No. 7 Tar Heels.
After trailing the entire second half, UNC (5-1) had a shot to tie the score. Trailing 88-85 with 33.9 seconds left, UNC coach Roy Williams called a timeout and drew up a play to get senior forward Luke Maye a 3-pointer.
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Maye got the 3 he was looking for, but the shot rolled in and out. UNC and Texas traded a few baskets and free throws, but UNC could not tie it.
“Bottom line is Texas played much better than we did,” coach Williams said. “Played much more aggressive than we did. Points off turnovers, 31 to 19, that’s something we can’t have. Fast break points, North Carolina gets two points on fast break and we can’t play like that.”
It is UNC’s first loss of the season, after winning its first five by an average of 30.6 points. UNC freshman guard Coby White finished with a game-high 33 points. It was the most points by a UNC freshman since Harrison Barnes scored 40 points in a game in 2011.
“He was sensational for us, and he was our offense when some other guys were really struggling,” coach Williams said.
UNC is 1-7 against Texas (5-0) with Williams as head coach.
With the loss, UNC will play the loser of No. 11 Michigan State and No. 17 UCLA on Friday.
There were multiple NBA general managers and scouts at the game Thursday. And Texas senior guard Kerwin Roach II put on a show for them and the rest of the crowd.
The 6-4, 181-pound guard had 32 points, 7 assists, and was 12-for-15 from the floor. Roach had a couple of highlight dunks, including a one-handed dunk over the outstretched arms of graduate wing Cam Johnson.
UNC stormed out to a 17-4 lead in the game’s first five minutes. White came out on fire. He hit his first three shots, including two 3-pointers. After his third basket, he clenched his fists and yelled “Let’s go!”
White continued his hot shooting, finishing with 20 first-half points.
But as UNC turned it over, Texas and Roach slowly chipped away at its lead. Texas senior forward Dylan Osetkowski hit a 3-pointer before the buzzer to give the Longhorns a one-point lead at halftime.
After the 3-pointer, and after his players had run back into the locker room, Williams stood at the bench for about 10 seconds before walking back.
The Longhorns built off the momentum from the 3-pointer. They increased their lead to as much as 11 points. While UNC had its opportunities to tie the game, Texas never relinquished the lead.
“Simply put, we had chance down the stretch and we need to execute better, we need to score better, we need to defend better,” Johnson said.
The Longhorns size was proved too much, and the Tar Heels lost their first game of the season.
“Second half I thought our guys competed much harder,” coach Williams said. “We had three turnovers in the second half after turning it over 14 times in the first half, but you can’t let somebody shoot 63 percent in the second half.”