CHAPEL HILL— No.12 UNC escaped with the 62-54 win over the Crusaders of Holy Cross Friday night, improving to 2-0 on the young season.
The atmosphere was certainly electric inside the Dean Smith Center for some Friday night hoops.
The Tar Heels won the tip, but threw the ball away to turn the ball over to the Crusaders. UNC was exhibiting some solid defense that was giving Holy Cross some fits early on.
But a foul was called on Joel James, giving Crusader Dave Dudzinski an opportunity to claim the first point of the game. But Joel James came right back to throw in a bucket and put Carolina up 2-1.
Then, Marcus Paige took over. He popped a long-range shot to up the lead to 5-1 in favor of Carolina. Paige was alert and on point early in the game as he knocked down another jumper to earn a 7-1 margin.
James Michael McAdoo joined the party soon after with a two-point field goal of his own. With 15:17 on the clock, UNC maintained a 9-1 advantage. It was another ultra-fast start for Head Coach Roy Williams’ squad.
Kennedy Meeks hit both of his free throws for UNC to show all the practiced foul shots were paying off for the Tar Heels. Holy Cross seemed outmanned at times early, but the Crusaders were able to score on the next possession to reduce the arrears to 11-3.
Brice Johnson made a quality fall-away shot and coupled that with another quick score to increase the damage to 15-4 in the first half with 11:30 to go.
On the other end, Cullen Hamilton swished a beautiful three for Holy Cross to momentarily quiet the Dean Dome fans. An official time out was called soon after.
A dry spell ensued after the stoppage of play as both teams struggled to get their offenses going. The long drought of over four minutes was finally snapped by Crusader Malcolm Miller. He made a three to close within five points now with 5:35 remaining in first half.
Still no Tar Heel score until Johnson slammed one home to the relief and delight of the Tar Heel faithful. With 4:42 on the clock, Carolina held on to a 17-10 lead.
The Crusaders sent McAdoo to the line, and he made both to set the scoreboard to 19-12. More points from the charity line came soon after for McAdoo, and he remained perfect by pushing the score to 21-12.
Isaiah Hicks hit a jumper for the Tar Heels, and then Hamilton matched him for the Crusaders with the help of a shooter’s roll that dumped the ball through the hoop on a long three-point heave.
The Crusaders were closing in a hurry with some fine shot-making. Marcus Paige added a couple points to help Carolina’s cause in the closing seconds of the half, but this one was tight.
At the half, remarkably, Carolina was tied with Holy Cross at 25 to the dismay of the home crowd.
Marcus Paige led all Tar Heel scorers at the half with seven points while McAdoo added six of his own. Overall, UNC was shooting a woeful 27.3 percent from the field.
At the start of the second half, Carolina gave up the lead to Holy Cross, but then responded nicely with a three-point highlight from Paige to put UNC ahead 29-27.
But the Crusaders were not backing down. They turned around and answered the bell with a made shot of their own to reclaim the lead 30-29.
And with 16:30 left in the contest, it was the underdog Holy Cross team with a 32-29 lead. Marcus Paige ignited the crowd with a running lay-up to tighten the gap to a single point.
Kennedy Meeks jumped right in with a solid score of his own as the Dean Dome truly came alive with a different decibel level of noise rocking the venue. A time out was called with 14:37 left on the clock. The Tar Heels held a 33-32 lead.
J.P. Tokoto slammed a dunk home after the break to push Carolina to a three point margin over the Crusaders. Justin Burrell tied the score seconds later with a laser-like shot from well outside.
With 12:53 remaining, the Tar Heels held a narrow 37-35 lead. Paige passed the ball off smartly to Johnson for an easy score for Carolina and the defensive pressure was ratcheting up for UNC. Tokoto added a bucket of his own, and it now appeared UNC had well and truly arrived to claim a 41-35 lead with 12:05 left in the game.
Paige continued his fine play by knocking down another field goal to push UNC ahead eight. A ten-point margin was achieved when Johnson added a score, and what do you know? Paige lit up the Dean Dome once more with a score. A timeout was called with UNC having seized control of the contest up 47-35 with 9:26 left.
James popped a shot to move UNC up 49-39 with 7:36 left in the game. It was clear who was in control of the proceedings at this point. The intensity level for Carolina was certainly amped up in the second half.
Paige tied his career high with 19 points on a three point make. UNC was rolling.
McAdoo displayed his basketball prowess with two quick scores that propelled Carolina to a 56-44 lead with 4 minutes remaining to play.
The Crusaders kept things interesting, but UNC kept its nose out front.
The clock hit triple zeros, and with it, Carolina emerged with a closer than expected Friday night victory with Belmont looming on Sunday. Marcus Paige finished the night with a career high 23 points.