LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—North Carolina might have lost its top seven scorers from its national championship team and entered the season unranked. The Tar Heels, however, still are capable of a big victory.
Led by a career-high 25 points from Reyshawn Terry, North Carolina upset No. 10 Kentucky 83-79 on Saturday, giving the Tar Heels an emphatic win on the road that ended the Wildcats’ 11-game winning streak at Rupp Arena.
This was a matchup of basketball teams that rank 1-2 in NCAA Division I in overall wins, and North Carolina (4-1) showed it remains plenty dangerous despite a roster depleted after three players graduated and another four entered the NBA draft.
“We kind of figured everybody would write us off,” Terry said. “We really can’t worry about that. You use that as motivation and try to be better.”
That’s exactly what the Tar Heels did Saturday, four days after a four-point loss to No. 12 Illinois in a rematch of the NCAA title game. North Carolina held off two second-half runs by Kentucky (5-2) to beat the Wildcats for the second straight season.
“It was a sensational day for us,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “When they made their runs we were able to counter instead of being soft and backing off and being tentative.”
Kentucky, despite career highs in points from guards Rajon Rondo (20) and walk-on Ravi Moss (17), lost for the first time at home since falling 65-59 to Kansas on Jan. 9. Kentucky has been ranked in the top 10 of the last 39 Associated Press polls—tops in the nation—but that streak most likely will end next week.
North Carolina capitalized on its size, holding a 37-30 rebounding advantage and getting numerous second-chance shots. Kentucky shot better from the field— 50.9 percent to 43.3 percent—but North Carolina attempted five more shots than the Wildcats.
“We had trouble with some of the same issues that we’ve had all year long— rebounding the ball,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “That was our primary concern.”
Almost half the Tar Heels’ shots—27 of 60—were 3-point attempts. North Carolina finished 10-of-27 from behind the arc, including 3-of-5 performances from David Noel (15 points) and Wes Miller (12 points). Noel has scored in double figures in each of North Carolina’s games this season after doing so a combined five times during his previous two seasons.
During Smith’s nine seasons at Kentucky, this was only the second time the Wildcats shot 50 percent or better from the field and lost. Kentucky is 96-2 in such games under Smith.
“We were herky-jerky,” Smith said. “There’s just not a smoothness. We don’t flow from one group to the next. Someone has got to take charge.”
Kentucky quickly trimmed North Carolina’s 12-point halftime lead, opening the second half on a 12-2 run to pull within 46-44. But the Tar Heels just as quickly restored their advantage to double digits and kept it there.
North Carolina led 71-58 with 7:55 left—Kentucky’s largest deficit of the season—but Kentucky scored the next eight points and trailed 71-66 with 4:22 left.
The Wildcats turned the ball over on their next two trips, while North Carolina picked up a 2-pointer from Marcus Ginyard and 3-pointer by Noel. The 3-pointer gave the Tar Heels a 76-66 lead with 2:53 left, and they made 7-of-9 free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
“We just wanted to come out here and prove we can play with anybody,” Miller said.
North Carolina’s 44-32 halftime lead largely was the result of the Tar Heels’ 7-of-16 3-point shooting. Terry had two of those 3-pointers and 16 points in the half.
Kentucky led 16-10 early, but Danny Green’s 3-pointer put North Carolina up 20-18, and the Tar Heels stretched that lead to double digits by the end of the half.
Freshman center Tyler Hansbrough—who spurned Kentucky and signed with the Tar Heels after a recruiting battle—dunked home a miss at the buzzer to give North Carolina its largest lead to that point.
Rondo, a sophomore who has started all 41 games of his career at Kentucky, finished without at least one steal for the first time in his two seasons with the Wildcats.