GREENVILLE, S.C. — North Carolina’s redemption tour almost came to a halt Sunday at the hands of Arkansas. The Tar Heels’ 72–65 win against the Razorbacks ensures that one half of last year’s epic national title game will be in the Sweet 16. Here’s a closer look at the Tar Heels’ nail-biter.
1. Arkansas nearly won after losing in two key categories:
UNC outrebounded Arkansas 45–32 on Sunday, which was expected with the Tar Heel bigs. But when a team is beaten on the glass, it has to compensate by winning the turnover battle. The Razorbacks didn’t do that, either.
North Carolina turned the ball over 17 times compared to Arkansas’ 19 giveaways. But Arkansas was able to capitalize better on North Carolina’s miscues. The Razorbacks scored 24 points off UNC’s turnovers compared to Carolina’s 23 points.
North Carolina had four turnovers in a key three-minute second-half stretch that saw the Heels score zero points and trail 65–60 with under 3 minutes remaining. The Razorbacks lost the rebounding battle 43–29 to Seton Hall on Friday (the Pirates had the nation’s leading rebounder in Angel Delgado), but held on for a 77–71 win. On Sunday, Mike Anderson’s squad couldn’t execute late like it did on Friday.
2. Theo Pinson and Isaiah Hicks have to show up next week:
The two starters are too integral to UNC’s success to play this poorly in the postseason. Pinson and Hicks combined for 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Entering Sunday, they averaged 18.6 of Carolina’s points, and both players are key on defense. Pinson mustered just 2 points.
Each player had three turnovers each. When Arkansas got its first lead with 13 minutes left, Hicks had just two points and two rebounds.
Hicks’ best, and really only, play of the day came with just more than two minutes left. Carolina forward Justin Jackson lured two Razorback defenders well beyond the arc and Hicks rolled underneath to get the pass and flushed it to get the score within a point. Despite his quiet performance, Hicks' free throws with 10 seconds left sealed the win for UNC.
3. Joel Berry can play through his ankle injury
The North Carolina junior guard got treatment immediately following UNC’s first-round win against Texas Southern for his injured ankle. That treatment continued into Saturday, and Roy Williams voiced his pleasure with a late tip Sunday so that Berry could get a few more hours to heal.
There was little doubt Berry would play, but the ghost of Kendall Marshall’s injured wrist from the 2012 tournament still lingers in Tar Heel Land. Berry showed no signs of the ankle bothering him, hitting his first 3-point attempt just more than a minute into the game.
Berry finished the game with 10 points in 34 minutes. He was 2-for-13 from the field, but his shot selection was good for the most part. He only dished out three assists, which was under his season average.
After the game, Berry admitted his ankle started getting sore toward the end of the game. He felt it most on his lift on field-goal attempts. He said it fought through it more on the defensive end because that’s where the Tar Heels needed it the most.