In its last game, North Carolina came up just short in its attempt at knocking off the top team in the country.
The fourth-ranked Tar Heels aren’t likely to face nearly as tough a challenge Tuesday night against visiting Evansville.
Just three days after holding off then-No. 9 Wisconsin 60-57, North Carolina (6-2) suffered a 73-72 loss at No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday. The Tar Heels, whose 11-of-18 effort from 3-point range matched a season best, led by as many as nine points in the first half and had a chance to take the lead in the closing seconds.
Wildcats forward Anthony Davis, though, turned away John Henson’s shot with nine seconds remaining. North Carolina seemed to lose track of time and didn’t foul, letting time expire.
“Games like this get you ready for March,” Henson said. “That’s all that matters right now.”
The Tar Heels, who were outrebounded 48-39 during a 90-80 loss to UNLV on Nov. 26, managed two fewer boards than Kentucky. They also committed four more turnovers than the Wildcats.
“Boxing out and rebounding. That’s what it came down to,” said sophomore forward Harrison Barnes, who scored 14 points - 3.3 less than his team-leading average. “You could see that both teams are good at moving the ball and getting good shots, but at the end of the day, second opportunities made the difference.”
While a tougher early season schedule has proven difficult to overcome, North Carolina stands to benefit from an easier upcoming slate of games. The Tar Heels, beginning a nine-game homestand, play six of their next seven versus teams from non-BCS conferences before opening ACC play Jan. 7 against Boston College.
North Carolina’s two future matchups with No. 7 Duke are its only two meetings against opponents currently ranked in the Top 25.
Since falling 86-78 to Ohio on Feb. 2, 2002, the Tar Heels have taken 67 consecutive home meetings versus unranked, non-conference opponents by 26.4 points - including a 91-73 win over the Aces on Dec. 18, 2008.
North Carolina defeated Evansville 76-49 on the road Dec. 8, 2010, behind 18 points and eight rebounds from forward Tyler Zeller.
Zeller is 13 points shy of giving the Tar Heels their NCAA-record 64th 1,000-point scorer. They currently share the record with Louisville.
The Aces (3-3) are also coming off a tough loss, allowing the winning basket with two seconds remaining in Saturday’s 70-68 overtime defeat to TCU. Swingman Colt Ryan, whose average of 19.7 points ranks second in the Missouri Valley Conference, posted season bests of 31 points and eight boards.
Ryan was held to just nine points on 2-of-14 shooting versus North Carolina last season, going 1 for 8 from 3-point range.
Since the beginning of 2000-01, Evansville has gone 25-121 as the visiting team. The Aces fell 79-75 to Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 23 in their only road game this season.
Evansville had been outscored by 14.1 points in dropping 10 straight against ranked teams before beating then-No. 25 Northern Iowa 55-54 on Feb. 23, 2010.