CHAPEL HILL— No.12 Carolina dropped an absolute thriller 83-80 in front of a frenzied Dean Dome crowd Sunday afternoon to fall to 2-1 on the young season.
To open proceedings in the Dean Dome, Nate Britt knocked down a three-pointer off an assist from Marcus Paige to draw first blood for the Tar Heels.
Belmont responded with an outside make of their own to tie the contest. The Bruins then added another three to take the lead 6-4 with 17:26 on the clock in the first half.
The pace was quick at the start, with both squads trying to capitalize on the breaks and push the ball to the basket. James Michael McAdoo found his way to the line and made both of his free throws to tie the game at six.
With 15:35 left in the first half, a time out was called with Belmont leading Carolina 9-8.
Kennedy Meeks banked a shot into the basket courtesy of a crisp pass from Paige to get UNC within a pair of points with 13:11 remaining in the opening half of play.
J.P. Tokoto soon added his name to the announcing loudspeaker with a long made two-point basket that tied the game at 14 before the Bruins tacked on a pair of free throws to take a 16-14 lead with 11:57 on the clock.
McAdoo earned his way back to the free throw line, but a lane violation call on the Tar Heels took away the possibility of points.
The defensive pressure for Carolina started to pick up, and McAdoo forced the ball under the basket to get back to the charity stripe. This time, he tacked on a point for the home team.
Tokoto’s questionable shooting continued as he missed on both of his foul shot attempts, but Belmont failed to make Carolina pay on the other end.
The score remained the same for a while, but Belmont sniped a three-pointer to grab the 21-18 lead.
The Bruins tacked on another made field goal before Carolina made one of their own to set the score at 23-30 in favor of the visitors with 7:40 left in the half.
Paige hit a nice jumper to move UNC within one before Meeks followed that one up with a score of his own to get the Tar Heels the lead 24-23.
McAdoo ignited the crowd with an electrifying, high-flying dunk, but Belmont continued to shoot the lights out of the ball to keep pace with the Tar Heels.
Brice Johnson moved into the scoring foray to lock up the game at 30 apiece. But the Bruin attack continued with relentless pace at the other end with the UNC defense happy to allow the sharp shooters of Belmont to take wide-open three pointers.
With 2:29 in the half, Meeks scored to close within three points of Belmont.
As the players ran into the locker room, Carolina found themselves in need of a second half rally to escape with a win. The Tar Heels were trailing Belmont 41-34 at intermission.
One of the most glaring weaknesses in this game for the Tar Heels was the free throw shooting.
At the half, Carolina was shooting an atrocious 32 percent from the foul line. Meanwhile, Belmont was shooting at an 89 percent rate from the free throw line.
McAdoo was leading the way with 12 points for Carolina while Belmont’s Drew Windler totaled 11 points to lead the Bruins.
Marcus Paige delivered the ball to a running McAdoo who slammed it through the hoop to close the Tar Heels to within 42-36.
The urgency for Carolina was palpable as McAdoo wasn’t wasting any time making his second half presence known. He earned a trip to the foul line and converted on both of his attempts.
Joel James made a shot to place the score at 44-40 lead 18:26 remaining in the contest. James cored again, but the Bruins just kept making everything they looked at to extend the lead to a full 10 points with 16:20 left in the game.
Paige hit a crucial shot to get the Tar Heels within shouting distance at 52-44, but the Bruins responded yet again with a dart that wiped away all Carolina’s momentum.
A time out was called with 14:30 left in the contest. Belmont was ahead 55-44.
Paige nailed a pair of free throws for Carolina, and Johnson added a made jumper to get the Tar Heels within seven as the Dean Dome crowd roared.
McAdoo went in strong inside. He made the basket and got the point after.
With 12:30 left in the game, Belmont still sported a 60-51 lead over Head Coach Roy Williams’ boys.
Carolina was on a roll. And with Johnson’s emphatic dunk, the Tar Heels were within three points with 10:55 to go.
In fact, at the 10:32 mark, the Tar Heels had trimmed the Bruin lead down to a single point at 60-59. The momentum was firmly behind Carolina now.
Paige knocked down a gigantic three to give Carolina the lead at 62-60 with 8 minutes left.
Tokoto dashed down the court and drew a foul to head to the line. Could he overcome his previously poor shooting to make some clutch shots? He made one of two.
McAdoo slid through the lane to convert on a shot that moved the Tar Heels up 65-60 with 6:32 remaining. A questionable foul call on Jackson Simmons on the other end helped Belmont score to close within a pair of points.
Tokoto scored on a third or fourth effort to push the Tar Heel back ahead by four to the delight of the Carolina fans in attendance.
McAdoo was back on the line. This time he converted on both of his foul shots to give UNC the 69-65 lead with 5:25 to play.
Johnson slammed one home and Paige added another finesse shot to give UNC the 73-65 advantage with 3:36 left.
Belmont’s Craig Bradshaw popped an outside three to keep his Bruins in the contest with 2:40 remaining. The Tar Heels were clinging to a 75-70 lead.
Belmont was continuing to hit their outside shots to close within two at 80-78 with 52.9 ticks left on the clock. It was a thriller.
But at the close of the contest, the Tar Heels couldn’t overcome abysmal free-throw shooting and poor defense. UNC walked away with a stunning loss. Next on the horizon is a meeting with Richmond in Connecticut as the Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament continues.