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North Carolina overcomes Bryce Cotton's 36 points to edge Providence

Marcus Paige and Bryce CottonBryce Cotton (right) won the battle against fellow star point guard Marcus Paige, outscoring him 36-19, but Paige's Tar Heels got the win. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO — North Carolina coach Roy Williams has harped on his team all season about having a greater sense of urgency.

His Tar Heels played with it early in the season with wins against fellow bluebloods Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky. They also did during a 12-game winning streak in ACC play.

Yet so far this month, sixth-seeded North Carolina had lacked it, as evidenced by a two-game losing streak entering this NCAA tournament, where such lapses can be season-ending.

That urgency wasn’t entirely back Friday night, but it was late in the game as Carolina overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 4:34 and won when James Michael McAdoo made two of four free throws in last 3.5 seconds. The Tar Heels’ grueling 79-77 victory against upset-minded No. 11 Providence sends them to the third round of the East Region.

North Carolina’s comeback overshadowed Providence point guard Bryce Cotton’s career high 36 points, most of which came on a steady diet of jaw-dropping floaters.

With the game tied at 77, McAdoo was fouled on an offensive rebound, sending him to the line for a 1-and-1, his first free throw attempts of the game. A 53.7 percent free throw shooter this season, he made the first and missed the second.

But McAdoo grabbed the rebound after Providence (23-12) forgot to box him off and was fouled with 1.7 seconds left. He again made the first and missed the second, which went out of bounds off Cotton’s hands.

McAdoo finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Marcus Paige topped North Carolina (24-9) with 19 points.

After the game, a relieved Williams hightailed it to the locker room. He had escaped and now has still not lost his opening game in his 24 NCAA tournament appearances, an incredible streak.

One even more remarkable this season considering that P.J. Hairston, North Carolina’s leading scorer from last year, left the team in December amidst NCAA eligibility problems without having played a single game.

Now, Williams’ team that started the ACC season 0-3 has advanced to the Round of 32.

Maybe he’s not giving the Tar Heels enough credit for urgency.

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