North Carolina Sweetens Season, Sprints Past Arkansas 87-78
Before Saturday, Arkansas players talked about how they looked forward to playing North Carolina in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
They talked about how they weren”t Harvard, insinuating that they would force even more Carolina turnovers than the 17 the Tar Heels coughed up against the Crimson on Thursday. They talked confidently. The biggest mistake the Razorbacks made, though, was to talk about how much they looked forward to running with the Tar Heels.
Never talk about running with the Tar Heels.
North Carolina finally got to play an up-tempo game, and Arkansas may have underestimated just how good the Tar Heels can be in transition, not just offensively, but defensively as well. The Razorbacks coughed up 21 turnovers, and North Carolina managed to pull ahead in the second half despite Isaiah Hicks, Brice Johnson, and Kennedy Meeks each having at least three fouls, finishing with an 87-78 victory.
In a game where Roy Williams had to rotate bigs to minimize foul trouble, it was his two guards who carried the Tar Heels to the Sweet 16. Marcus Paige scored 20 points in the second half after going 1-of-8 in the first frame, and Nate Britt, the same Nate Britt who played exactly 1 minute against Harvard, scored 10 points and was responsible for the most important rebound of the game when he tipped a missed free throw back out to a teammate.
Paige looked scarily similar to the 2014 version of himself, recovering from an ice-cold first half to picking up a Super Mario invincibility star. He drove successfully, he hit from deep, he made his free throws, and most importantly, he carried his team with the season on the line. When Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks fouled out with under 3 minutes to play, and Kennedy Meeks in the tunnel with a knee injury that doctors will evaluate today, Paige knew he had to take over, and he did. He helped break the suffocating Arkansas press, and was perfect from the free throw line as time slowly ticked off the clock.
North Carolina will now wait and see if they get fast-paced Oregon or 1-seeded Wisconsin this Thursday in Los Angeles. And after beating a Harvard team that looks to slow it down as much as possible and an Arkansas team that dared North Carolina to run, the Tar Heels likely won”t have a preference. They”ve already proven they can compete in any kind of game this March.