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North Carolina survives Providence's Bryce Cotton

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-2nd Round-North Carolina vs Providence
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Providence guard Bryce Cotton, right, floating past North Carolina's Marcus Paige, was spectacular Friday night. (USA TODAY Sports)

SAN ANTONIO – What happened to sixth-seeded North Carolina in their East Regional opener at the AT&T Center on Friday?

They survived Bryce Cotton, that's what.

Providence's diminutive senior guard put on a show, scoring 36 points, but North Carolina held on to defeat the 11th-seeded Friars 79-77.

James Michael McAdoo hit the first of two free throws with 3.5 seconds remaining to give the Tar Heels a 78-77 lead, and he rebounded his miss on the second attempt to get back to the line and seal the game by making one of two once again.

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"Well, we feel very fortunate to say the least," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We really did some good things and we really did some bad things. But we made a couple of plays at the end. We had a couple of guys that made big time shots and a couple guys that got big time rebounds for us."

But it was Cotton who had everyone talking, nearly leading the undermanned and undersized Friars to the upset.

"Yeah, he had a phenomenal game," North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige said. "It seemed like whenever they needed a basket, he came through for them. He's really quick and can score off the dribble or shoot the jump shot and get all the way to the basket. So it was tough for us."

He had the play of the game with a high-flying midcourt steal off a long outlet pass. He skied through the air and snatched the ball with his right hand like a cornerback, dribbling back upcourt and eventually hitting a 3 to extend Providence's lead to 66-62 with 5:41 remaining in the game.

Paige later fouled Cotton on a 3-point attempt with 2:29 left and Cotton hit all three free throws to put Providence up 74-71.

"Bryce Cotton played one of the best games I've ever had anybody play against us," Williams said. "My whole thought defensively was what can we do to stop him?

"He's a sneaky little rascal too, because on the three that Marcus fouled him on, it looked like he kicked his foot out. But I knew when he went to the free-throw line that he was going to make the free throws. So it was an impressive performance, and I said that to him when we were shaking hands."

But the bigger Tar Heels would not go away, hitting shot after shot and getting key rebounds down the stretch.

J.P. Tokoto had a three-point play with 2:20 remaining to tie the score at 74, and Paige hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 77.

North Carolina outrebounded Providence 44-27, with Cotton doing all he could to keep the Friars, who only played seven players Friday night, in the game. He finished with eight assists, five rebounds and two steals.

"Tough, it's tough," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "Quite frankly, I thought we deserved to win, but sometimes in life it doesn't happen that way.  You've got to get lucky at the right time, and we didn't."

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