EAST LANSING, Mich.— The Tar Heel basketball team provided another national shocker Wednesday night with an inspired 79-65 win over the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans in the Breslin Center for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The Tar Heels improved to 5-2 on the season while Michigan State fell to 7-1 on the year.
It was clear from the outset that the UNC squad that played against Louisville had returned. The energy and intensity was there from the beginning while Michigan State lacked the normal fight that a Tom Izzo-coached team usually exudes.
Joel James drew first blood in the contest with a pair of free throws to stake a 2-0 lead. The pace kept accelerating for the Tar Heels from there.
It was a furious tempo that favored Carolina as Tokoto scored a couple baskets and Paige added another lay-up to stake UNC out to a 10-4 lead with 15:15 on the first half clock.
Kennedy Meeks entered the scoring fray, and Brice Johnson provided some more offensive spark to continue the strong start to the game for the Tar Heels.
With 11:56 left in the first half, it was Carolina claiming a surprising 18-6 lead on the Spartans.
James Michael McAdoo emerged from his recent slumber to make a couple baskets of his own. Everything seemed to be clicking for the energetic and focused Tar Heels now up 28-17 with 7:33 to play in the half.
In a scary moment for the Spartans, Keith Appling went down on a vicious fall. He spent about a minute down on the court before limping off to the bench.
The crowd erupted as the Spartans got some momentum and closed within five points with under 5:30 to play in half. But Meeks quieted the crowd for a moment with a score inside.
All the momentum was flowing the Spartans way as Adreian Payne got going to electrify the home court. The Tar Heel lead was trimmed to three at 32-29 with less than three minutes left in the half.
Payne tied the game for Michigan State with a long-range shot to apparently seize full control of the contest.
Carolina went on a five minute scoring drought to end the half that left the game tied at 32 points a piece as the squads trotted into the locker room.
Shockingly, UNC had turnovers on four of their last five possessions of the first half. Michigan State shot 41 percent from the floor while Carolina shot 39 percent.
Marcus Paige, the scoring leader for the Tar Heels on the season, was a mere 1 for 6 in the first half against the Spartans.
The second half opened up with both teams finding some offense. Keith Appling netted a long three to knot the game at 38.
Nate Britt threaded the needle to Marcus Paige for a running make that also netted an extra foul shot to give the Tar Heels a 41-38 lead.
Meeks displayed some deft touch to give Carolina a five point margin five minutes into the second half of play.
Payne slammed home a dunk on an inbounds pass to get the top-ranked Spartans within three. And Tokoto’s travel handed the ball back to MSU. But they failed to take advantage.
Appling struck again with an extremely deep three-pointer to tie the game at 49 with 11:54 to go. After a timeout, Brice Johnson made a nice move to lay the ball into the basket and break the tie.
Tokoto converted on a shot, and Payne came up empty on a three-point attempt on the other end as UNC led 55-51.
Next, Tokoto broke free for a slam to extend the Tar Heel lead to 57-51. Michigan State seemed to be out of sorts on the offensive end. The Spartans were settling for poor shots early in the shot clock.
And Paige emerged to swish a three to push Carolina up 63-52 with less than six minutes to go. And the clock was beginning to become a factor when Meeks scored inside to push the margin to 13 points.
Carolina was on a 16-3 run since the game was tied at 49 points earlier in the second half.
Nate Britt connected on both of his free throws to maintain an eleven point lead. Michigan State was amping up the pressure on defense, but the Tar Heels staved it off by earning a foul.
Johnson made both of his foul shots under pressure. Britt made both of his free throws as well. This was a different Tar Heel team that came to play in this basketball game.
With 2:40 remaining, UNC held a 71-61 lead on the Spartans. Harris responded with a three for Michigan State to get them within eight points.
But there wasn’t enough time for the Spartans to claw their way back into the game as UNC continued to make the majority of the free throws down the stretch.