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After a close first half, No. 1 North Carolina broke away in the second to defeat No. 9 Providence, 85–66, and advance to the Sweet 16 in the East. Senior forward (and current SI cover man) Brice Johnson led the way for the Tar Heels, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. It was his 21st double double of the season. Senior guard Marcus Paige heated up in the second half and scored 12 points, while adding three rebounds, and the Tar Heels starters combined for 65 points. For the Friars, star junior guard Kris Dunn led the way with 29 points and shot 62.5% from the field, while sophomore forward Ben Bentil, the Big East’s leading scorer, added 21 before fouling out with just under eight minutes left.
Why It Matters
North Carolina defeated a tough Providence team filled with NBA talent and made it look easy. National Player of the Year candidate Johnson is averaging 19.5 points in the tournament and has been an absolute difference maker on defense (17 rebounds in two games). The Heels also won this game without a significant performance from key junior forward Kennedy Meeks, who scored only two points. With Johnson, the best two-way defender in the tournament, a steady point guard in Paige and one of the best coaches in the game, North Carolina has proven why it’s a favorite to win it all.
On March 25th in Philadelphia, North Carolina will take on No. 5 Indiana. The Hoosiers beat No. 4 Kentucky, 73–67, earlier Saturday. The UNC-Indiana game will feature the fifth- and seventh-most efficient offensives, respectively, per kenpom.com.