Boston College stuns No. 1 North Carolina 85-78
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Tyrese Rice came through with another big game against North Carolina, one that ended all the talk of a perfect season for the top-ranked Tar Heels.
Rice scored 25 points and Rakim Sanders added 22 to help Boston College stun North Carolina 85-78 on Sunday, likely ending the Tar Heels’ run atop the early season polls with a surprisingly one-sided road victory.
Reggie Jackson had 17 points—including seven in the decisive second-half run—for the Eagles (13-2, 1-0), who led by six points at halftime and pushed the lead to as many as 15 before holding off a frantic rally in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
It started with Rice, who scored 46 points in last year’s late-season meeting and was again a matchup problem at the point for North Carolina (13-1, 0-1) all game. But the Eagles had a lot more, namely a physical defense and an unwavering focus that kept them from getting too caught up in the moment as they inched closer to an upset that few could have imagined.
This was, after all, a team picked in the preseason to finish 11th in the 12-team ACC. And the Tar Heels were the unanimous No. 1 team in the national poll with five starters back from a Final Four squad that won a school-record 36 games, a team that heard questions as recently as Friday on whether it could go unbeaten this year.
So much for all of that.
“We just met the challenge,” Rice said. “I felt like they hadn’t been challenged all year. Every team that they’ve played against, they just walked right through them. You look at people playing defense against them, they stay back, people drive and they’re standing straight up and not trying to contest shots. I can’t watch a tape if everybody’s playing like that.
“We wanted to challenge them to see if they could step up and play as hard as we were going to play.”
North Carolina had been every bit as dominant as predicted so far, winning its first 13 games by an average of 26 points and breaking a school record for most consecutive double-digit wins set by the 1993 NCAA championship team. Its closest game was 15 points, its smallest halftime lead was eight and it hadn’t trailed in a game later than the 7:08 mark of the first half.
The Tar Heels sounded eager to see how they would handle a tougher game. Most expected that would come with a trip to unbeaten and sixth-ranked Wake Forest next weekend. Instead, North Carolina finds itself at the bottom of the conference standings to start its run for a third straight league title.
“We never sat in the locker room and said, ‘Let’s go straight undefeated,”’ said Tyler Hansbrough, who had 21 points to lead North Carolina. “That was more people outside the locker room talking about that. Now you can put that to rest and bring us back down to reality, and we can all focus on what we need to do better instead of all this hype.”
In the last meeting, North Carolina rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit for a 90-80 victory with Rice the only BC player to reach double figures. There would be no blown lead this time, just the sight of the Eagles’ bench spilling onto the court in celebration as the horn sounded.
“We had to have the discipline in order to execute what it is we needed to do,” Boston College coach Al Skinner said. “There were going to be breakdowns and there were, but guys were able to refocus and not compound those mistakes.”
The Tar Heels shot 29 percent in the second half and 15-for-27 from the foul line for the game. That included a 5-for-12 effort in the last 8 minutes as they desperately tried to rally from a double-digit deficit, getting as close as four points in the final minute.
The rest of the time, North Carolina looked lost.
Hansbrough struggled to consistently find space against Josh Southern and frequent double-teams inside. Frontcourtmate Deon Thompson, who came in averaging 14 points per game, was a no-show and sat on the bench while reserve Will Graves earned his minutes late. And no one seemed able to make a big shot when the Tar Heels desperately needed one, most notably when they missed three open 3s on one possession in the final 3 minutes.
“Needless to say, it hurts,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We just never could get over the hump, didn’t get them to turn it over very much. Then we had some guys—including myself—who didn’t have as good of a day that we hoped we’d have.”
Sanders scored 18 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer right in front of the North Carolina bench just before the horn that gave the Eagles a 46-40 lead.
At that point, it seemed North Carolina would storm out of the break with a big run to retake the lead. Yet remarkably, the Eagles never flinched even as the Tar Heels closed the gap to two points four times.
“We knew they would make a run,” Jackson said, “but we just tried to sustain and hold on as best we could.”
Instead, they answered with a spurt that had the Tar Heels chasing them the rest of the game.
First came a 3 from Joe Trapani. Then Jackson had a spinning score followed by a 3 of his own before capping a 12-2 run with a layup past Wayne Ellington that made it 70-58 with 10:09 to play.
Two possessions later, Trapani made an uncontested layup after a turnover by Graves that made it 74-60 with 9:22 left—capping a run of five straight scoring possessions.
North Carolina hung in with a frantic defensive effort in the final minutes and whittled the lead to 82-78 on a free throw by Hansbrough with 46.2 seconds left, but got no closer. Rice went 3-for-4 at the line in the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
Rice had eight assists and five rebounds to outperform counterpart Ty Lawson, who had 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting.
Ellington had 16 points for North Carolina, while Thompson had five on 2-for-6 shooting.
“I guess you could say we got comfortable,” Ellington said. “We took that hit on the chin. We have to learn from it, grow from it, and bounce back.”