Guard Marcus Paige scored a career-high 26 points and forward Brice Johnson came off the bench to add his career-high with 24 points, propelling No. 24 North Carolina to an 82-72 victory over Richmond in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Tipoff at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
The victory sends the Tar Heels (3-1) to the title game Sunday against the winner of the other semifinal between Louisville and Fairfield.
The win helps UNC erase the memory of an upset loss at home six days earlier to Belmont. Richmond (3-2), which had beaten Belmont in the tournament on Nov. 11, had won eight of its previous 14 games against ranked schools and appeared ready to claim another victim on Saturday. The Spiders sprinted to a 10-2 lead in the opening minutes behind senior guard Cedrick Lindsay, who finished with his career high, 29 points.
But North Carolina responded with depth and defense. With Johnson scoring 10 points and blocking two shots in the final 14 minutes of the first half and Richmond missing its final nine field goal tries before intermission, North Carolina took control. A pair of free throws by Paige with 38 seconds left in the half put the Tar Heels in the lead for the first time and after that they never trailed.
Playing without backcourt mates P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who are out of the lineup pending an impermissible benefits investigation, Paige had all the answers in the second half, hitting five 3-pointers in the second half, two of which broke ties. The 6-foot-1 Paige scored 18 of his points in the final 16 minutes.
Johnson also finished with a game-high 12 rebounds, helping Carolina to a 41-34 edge on the boards.
Richmond was still in the game when guard Kendall Anthony hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 66-62. But North Carolina answered with an 8-0 run, ignited by a Johnson jumper and the final 3-pointer of the game by Paige.