CHAPEL HILL– The No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels scraped their way to a gritty 82-77 victory over the No.10 Kentucky Wildcats in a raucous atmosphere inside the Dean Smith Center Saturday evening to improve to 7-2 on the year.
The enigmatic James Michael McAdoo displayed some much needed poise under pressure with 20 points and Marcus Paige made some clutch shots down the stretch in his leading contribution of 22 points to guide Carolina to another impressive victory on the national stage.
Kentucky’s physicality was in full display, but Carolina managed to record their third win over a top ten team in the young season despite missing a whopping 19 missed foul shots. These Tar Heels seemingly save their best play for the best competition.
The Wildcats won the opening tip-off, but a turnover handed the ball to Carolina. The crowd was in full voice early in the game.
The first strike was delivered by Aaron Harrison of Kentucky on a slash inside and an athletic finish. J.P. Tokoto missed an open jumper on the other end, but James Michael McAdoo drew a foul on a drive into the basket to earn a trip to the foul line with 18:09 on the clock.
McAdoo made both free throws to tie the score up at two before Kentucky responded with a bucket inside. But Tokoto had the answer with a score of his own for the Tar Heels.
Nate Britt grabbed a nice steal for Carolina, but Paige missed an open three-point attempt. The score was 7-4 in favor of the visiting Wildcats when a time out was called with 15:53 remaining in the first half.
Wildcat Andrew Harrison picked up a score and a foul on a make off the glass to push UK ahead 9-4. But Brice Johnson knocked down a shot for UNC to ignite the crowd. It was Johnson to the rescue again with an earned trip to the line. But, he shockingly missed both free throws.
Tokoto made an outside three-pointer to tie the game at 9 points apiece with under 14 minutes on the first half clock. Alex Pothress broke the tie for the Wildcats on the next possession.
A pair of free throws for Wildcat James Young extended the UK lead to 13-9. But spark plug Johnson slammed one home to a loud eruption in the Smith Center to close the Tar Heels within 14-10 when time was called with 11:48 left in the half. Tokoto’s previous shot was ruled a two-pointer after reviewing video.
McAdoo made a jumper despite a tough foul on the shot. The game was becoming a rugged slugfest with the score at 14-12 when McAdoo missed the free throw.
McAdoo earned another trip to the line, and this time he managed to make both despite an ugly second shot. The Tar Heels turned Kentucky over on the other end and the score was 19-16 with just under nine minutes left in the first half.
Tokoto swished through a three-pointer to get the Tar Heel crowd on their feet. The intensity was picking up on both sides of the floor for Carolina, but Kentucky maintained a slim 20-19 lead with 7:35 on the clock.
Kennedy Meeks failed to convert on a free throw opportunity, and Willie Cauley-Stein made the Tar Heels pay on the other end with a nice follow-up shot off a miss to score for the Wildcats.
It didn’t take McAdoo long to get back to the free throw line. He made one. An electric run down the floor for Tokoto resulted in a lay-up off a sharp pass from McAdoo to get UNC back within one at 23-22 with 5:53 to play in the first half.
Joel James scored and Tokoto followed with a score of his own to give Carolina a 26-23 lead at the 5:13 mark. And some solid work on the defensive end stymied Kentucky, and Carolina had a 29-25 lead with 3:29 on the first half clock.
Wildcat Andrew Harrison got to the line and mad one free throw while Carolina’s offense stalled out. A dunk by Cauley-Stein tied the game with a few ticks on the clock. Head Coach John Calipari got a technical foul when he refused to stop berating the officials. Marcus Paige made a pair of free throws and McAdoo added one. The score stood at 33-30 Carolina at the half.
Kentucky opened proceedings in the final half of play with a some made foul shots. Carolina maintained a 35-32 lead with 18:22 left in the game. Paige layed one in inside and James tapped in another bucket to push the lead to 39-34 in favor of Carolina.
Young got to the free throw line for Kentucky and made both to get his Wildcats within a pair of points with 16:54 left in the game.
Aaron Harrison tied the score at 39 with a break away lay in for Kentucky as the Tar Heel intensity was seeming to wane, allowing the Wildcats to gain momentum. The fouls kept flowing on Carolina players, and Kentucky was cashing in at the charity stripe, taking the lead at 40-39.
Paige stole the ball and returned it all the way to the basket to regain the lead for the Tar Heels when a time out was called with 15:21 on the clock.
The lead traded hands again when Harrison nailed a couple foul shots for Kentucky. Meeks was sent to the line on the other end, but the free throw woes continued for the Tar Heels. Meeks only converted on one to tie the game.
Harrison muscled his way inside to bank the ball in for the Wildcats and then he made another jumper. But the Tar Heels answered the bell by tying the game at 46 and then taking the lead on a Paige steal and layup to place Carolina ahead 48-46 with 13:25 left in the contest.
Britt scored inside for Carolina off a transition play to give the Tar Heels a 50-46 lead before Harrison banked one in on the other end.
The pace of play was accelerating into a feverish rate that had both programs gasping for breath at the time out with 11:34 left on the clock. The Tar Heels held a 54-48 lead.
McAdoo knocked in a fade-away jumper to maintain a six-point cushion for Carolina. McAdoo definitely was making his presence known in today’s game. But a recurring theme of getting to the foul line was becoming a factor for Kentucky, Their size and physicality was noticeable.
McAdoo drew a foul on UK’s Julius Randle and converted on one of the attempts. A nice drive inside for a score by UK’s Harrison soon followed.
Some confusion developed on the offensive side of the court for Carolina. The Tar Heels turned it over. But they managed to shrug it off with an electric three-pointer by Marcus Paige to give them a 60-54 lead with 8:05 to play.
Britt drew a foul inside and converted on both of his shots to move Carolina ahead 62-54 with 6:52 remaining. Kentucky answered with a score to cut the deficit to a mere six points.
An impressive floater by Paige got the crowd on their feet. A defensive stop coupled with a McAdoo make really exploded the Smith Center. Carolina had built a 66-58 lead with 5:25 on the clock with some determined, gritty play.
A controversial call at the 4:40 mark gave UK a free trip to the foul line. But Young failed to make either. But he made a three-pointer off a rebound to make up for it. It was a five point game.
Paige drew a crucial foul with 3:00 remaining as time was called. Carolina held a 66-63 lead. Paige didn’t miss the shots. Carolina extended its lead.
Coach Roy Williams called a time out to collect his players with 2:07 left in the game. It worked. Paige made a clutch shot and Johnson emphatically slammed a dunk home. Carolina made enough stops down the stretch to emerge victorious in a hard-fought affair.