UNC Junior Forward J.P. Tokoto Heads For NBA

Roy Williams was hoping for no surprise departures heading into next season. So much for that.

In a shocking announcement, UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto told Yahoo! Sports Wednesday that he has elected to forgo his senior year at Carolina and instead, declare for the NBA Draft.

Tokoto, an All-ACC first-team defender for the Tar Heels, says he won’t initially sign with an agent, giving him the opportunity to withdraw from the June draft prior to the April 26 early entry deadline. But regardless, Tokoto’s intentions are clear – to play in the NBA next season.

With a first round pick looking highly unlikely, the decision becomes all the more surprising.

“Going in, I know I’m not a first-round pick,” Tokoto says. “I know my jumper needs work, and I’m putting in that work now – and will keep doing it. My jumper is something that has me as a second-round pick right now, but I have a mindset of work to improve the form and range of my shot.”

Widely regarded as one of the best athletes in the ACC, Tokoto struggled at times, with his turnovers and jump shots.

“I know that my athleticism, my ability to finish in the open floor and especially my defense, getting deflections, making it hard on offensive players, those are things that [teams] will see right away from me,” Tokoto says.

Carolina was projected to be a preseason top-five team going into next season with every starter returning to action, but Tokoto says leaving Chapel Hill will give him the best chance to develop his game.

“I feel like there can be a lot more to me as a player, more than just the defensive player who can occasionally dunk the ball,” Tokoto says. “I know I can be so much more, but I’m not sure that I’m pushed to be that much more [in college].

“I want to focus on my game, working with trainers and pro coaches over the summer and next year. I think that’ll give me the best chance to grow than staying in school and being that player that fit into the mold of my first three years [at Carolina].”

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-junior-forward-j-p-tokoto-heads-for-nba/

Roy Williams Adding “Fuel” To 2016 Final Four Push

The North Carolina men’s basketball team couldn’t progress past the Sweet Sixteen in an up-and-down season that ultimately ended short of its hopeful final destination – Indianapolis for the Final Four. But with nearly every key player likely to return for next season, optimism reigns here in Chapel Hill.

***Listen to the story***

It’s both the tragedy and the thrill of March Madness. The single elimination format leaves no room for error. The realization that accompanies the finality of the end of a journey and with it, the pursuit of a national championship, can be hard to come to grips with – even for Roy Williams.

Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige should be returning for another shot in 2016

Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige should be returning for another shot in 2016

“The most difficult time as a coach is what to say to the kids after the last game when you lose. I feel so inadequate because there’s nothing I can say that will erase what just happened. There’s nothing I can say to make it go away. It’s not like golf – you don’t get a mulligan or anything like that,” Coach Williams says.

There’s an ultra-fine line between winning and losing – the Tar Heels know that all too well.

For the majority of their postseason contest with Notre Dame in the ACC championship game and their Sweet Sixteen showdown with Wisconsin, the Tar Heels seemingly were in control. But the rug was pulled out from under them with ruthless intention in the waning moments.

“The last three weeks, we played pretty good basketball. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to play by any means, but we played pretty good basketball. In the Notre Dame game, you take away three minutes, we win the ACC Tournament. In the Wisconsin game, you take away three minutes, we win that game,” Coach Williams says.

The sting of defeat can motivate. Coach Williams says he hopes Carolina can parlay the disappointment into a determined effort in summer workouts.

“I hope it hurts our guys as much as it does me. If it does that, we’ll work our butts off this summer, I can tell you that,” Coach Williams says.

The 2014-2015 Tar Heels finished their campaign with a 26-12 record that included an 8-3 mark on neutral courts.

But for UNC’s lofty standards, that’s nothing special. But that hasn’t dulled Coach Williams’ close-knit relationship with his players.

“I did enjoy this team. We didn’t have any knuckleheads. There was always one being a knucklehead, but it wasn’t a team full of knuckleheads. I enjoyed being with them. They’re really good kids. I have two grandsons. Everybody on my team I could say, ‘Watch these two little boys; I’ll be back in two hours.’ I would feel really comfortable,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams will begin his end-of-year one-on-one meetings with his players Wednesday. He’s crossing his fingers for no surprises.

Carolina will hope to celebrate more often next year (UNC Athletics)

Carolina will hope to be celebrating more often next year (UNC Athletics)

For the first time ever under Coach Williams, the coaching staff reviewed the game film with the entire team, of an NCAA Tournament loss.

That film session had a distinct purpose.

“I’m going to try to use that as fuel and make them hungrier to work even harder this summer – to show them one play here or a second play here, and we could be going to Indianapolis,” Coach Williams says.

With that extra “fuel” and yes, barring any unforeseen departures a la James Michael McAdoo in 2014, the Tar Heels should be locked and loaded for a legitimate run at the ACC title and a trip to Houston for the Final Four in 2016.

 

End-of-season notes from Steve Kirschner, UNC Athletics

• CAROLINA’s season ends at 26-12 overall and 8-3 on neutral courts.
 
• CAROLINA is 112-44 in 156 NCAA Tournament games. The 112 wins are second most all-time behind Kentucky.
 
• CAROLINA lost for the first time in the Sweet 16 since 1992. UNC had won its previous 11 Sweet 16 games since losing to Ohio State. Traevon Jackson scored four points tonight for the Badgers; in 1992, his father, Jim, had 18 points for the Buckeyes in Ohio State’s Sweet 16 win over UNC in Lexington, Ky.
 
• CAROLINA played 22 of its 37 games this season against NCAA Tournament teams and went 11-11 in those 22 games.
 
• CAROLINA is 25-7 in regional semifinal games.
 
• CAROLINA is 4-2 in NCAA Tournament history as a #4 seed.
 
• CAROLINA is 11-6 in West Regional games. The Tar Heels have reached the Final Four once in six appearances in the West Regional (1981).
 
• CAROLINA is 13-8 in California, including 2-3 in NCAA Tournament games and 5-6 in Los Angeles.
 
• CAROLINA is 7-5 in the NCAA Tournament against #1 seeds.
 
• CAROLINA is 2-1 against Wisconsin, including 1-1 in the NCAA Tournament (beat the Badgers in the 2005 East final in Syracuse).
 
• CAROLINA is 13-6 against Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. The loss to Wisconsin snapped a five-game win streak for UNC against Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament.
 
• ROY WILLIAMS is 750-202 in 27 seasons as a head coach and 332-101 in 12 seasons at North Carolina. His winning percentage of .788 is the sixth highest in college basketball history and first among active coaches with at least 20 years experience.
 
• ROY WILLIAMS is 31-9 (.775) in 25 NCAA Tournament appearances. He is tied for sixth in appearances, third in games (88) and tied with Dean Smith for second in wins (65).
 
• ROY WILLIAMS is 11-5 in Sweet 16 games, including 6-1 at UNC.
 
• CAROLINA lost for the fifth time this year when leading at the half. The Tar Heels led the Badgers, 33-31, at halftime, and Wisconsin overcame a seven-point deficit in the second half to win. UNC went 22-5 this year when leading at intermission. The losses came to Butler, at Louisville, Virginia, at home to Duke and Wisconsin.
 
• CAROLINA shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half, but only 42.9 percent in the second half. That was the first time in the last 10 games UNC failed to shoot 50 percent in the second half.
 
• CAROLINA shot 50 percent or better in eight of its last 11 halves dating back to the second half of the ACC quarterfinal win over Louisville.
 
• CAROLINA lost for just the second time this year in a game in which it made more three-point field goals than the opponents. UNC was 8 for 13 from three-point range, while Wisconsin was 7 for 21. The only other loss when UNC made more threes was against Iowa (UNC made four and the Hawkeyes made three on 12/3/14).
 
• WISCONSIN out-rebounded the Tar Heels by seven (35-28). That was the largest rebounding deficit since Iowa out-rebounded UNC, 42-26, on 12/3. Carolina was 23-7 this year when it had more rebounds and 2-4 when the opponents had more rebounds.
 
• CAROLINA committed only four turnovers and the Badgers committed five. By comparison, the Tar Heels and Arkansas combined for 37 in UNC’s previous game.
 
• The nine turnovers matched the fewest in a UNC game this season. UNC and Pitt also combined for nine on 2/14.
 
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers matched the fewest by UNC in Roy Williams’ 12 seasons as head coach (at Pitt, 2/14/15).
 
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers were the second-fewest in UNC’s 156 NCAA Tournament games. The only game UNC committed fewer was in the 1997 first round against Fairfield when the Tar Heels made a school-record two turnovers.
 
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers were the fewest in UNC’s 44 losses in NCAA Tournament history. The previous low for turnovers in a loss was seven against San Francisco in 1978.
 
• WISCONSIN’s five turnovers equal the fewest by an opponent in UNC’s 156-game NCAA Tournament history. Michigan State (1998 regional semifinal) and Auburn (1985 regional semifinal) also committed five.
 
• CAROLINA shot 61.5 percent from three-point range (making 8 of 13). That is the highest three-point percentage by UNC in an NCAA Tournament loss in school history. The previous best in a loss was .438 vs. Michigan (5 of 11) in the 1989 regional semifinal.
 
• MARCUS PAIGE made three three-point field goals. He finished the season with 94 3FGs, second-most in UNC single-season history, one behind Shammond Williams’s 95 in 1996-97.
 
• PAIGE has made 225 career three-pointers and is third in UNC history behind Shammond Williams (233) and Wayne Ellington (229). Only Ellington made more in three seasons.
 
• PAIGE has attempted 590 three-pointers in his career. That is more than any other Tar Heel. Shammond Williams was the previous record-holder with 578.
 
• PAIGE is 275 for 318 from the free throw line in his career. His percentage of .865 is the highest in Carolina history and the sixth-best in ACC history. Shammond Williams is second in UNC history at .849.
 
• PAIGE went 96 for 111 from the free throw line this season, a percentage of .865 that is the seventh-best single-season mark in UNC history for players with at least 75 makes (he shot the third-best percentage, .877, last year). He is the only Tar Heel in history to post two of the top 10 best seasons in free throw percentages.
 
• PAIGE scored 12 points against Wisconsin, the 30th time this season he scored in double figures. He made three 3FGs, the 41st time in 107 games he has done that.
 
• JUSTIN JACKSON shared team-scoring honors vs. the Badgers with 15 points. It was the 22nd time this year he scored in double figures, including 11 of the last 12 games.
 
• JACKSON led UNC in scoring for the sixth time this season – three of those six games came in the postseason (22 vs. Virginia in the ACC semifinals, 14 vs. Harvard in the NCAA Tournament and 15 vs. Wisconsin). He averaged 15.0 points in UNC’s three NCAA Tournament games and shot 17 for 32 from the floor (.531).
 
• JACKSON went three for three vs. Wisconsin from three-point range. That was the second time this season  – and second time in the last five games – that he made at least three from beyond the arc. He made a season-high four vs. Virginia on 3/13.
 
• JACKSON made two three-pointers three times in UNC’s first 27 games and at least two 3FGs in six of the last 11 contests.
 
• BRICE JOHNSON also shared UNC scoring honors with 15 points on 7 of 9 field goal attempts. It was his 26th game this year scoring in double figures. He scored more points vs. Wisconsin (15) than he did in the previous two NCAA games combined (seven vs. both Harvard and Arkansas).
 
• NATE BRITT went 2 for 2 from the free throw line. He finished the season 60 for 68 from the line (.882).  That is the second-highest single-season free throw percentage in UNC history for players with at least 60 made free throws. (Shammond Williams shot .911 in 1997-98, 133 for 146).
 
• BRITT is 114 for 136 in his career, a percentage of .838 that is sixth best in UNC history for players with at least 100 made free throws.
 
• J.P. TOKOTO was one of four Tar Heels with a team-high three assists. It was the 20th time this year Tokoto led outright or shared team honors in assists.
 
• ISAIAH HICKS led UNC with six rebounds. It was the first time in his career Hicks led the Tar Heels in rebounds.
 
• JOEL BERRY II had nine points, three assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes. It was his second-highest scoring game of the season (15 at Georgia Tech).
 
• WISCONSIN went 20 for 23 from the free throw line, while the Tar Heels made 12 of 18 from the line. That was the 10th time in the last 13 games the opponents attempted more free throws than UNC. The opponents attempted 68 more free throws than UNC over those 13 games and made 49 more from the line.
 
• WISCONSIN shot 87.0 percent from the free throw line. The Badgers were the fifth consecutive opponents in the postseason to shoot 80 percent or better from the free throw line (.800 by Virginia, .875 by Notre Dame, .900 by Harvard, .815 by Arkansas and .870 by Arkansas). Those five opponents combined to make 104 of 122 from the line for 85.2 percent.
 
• CAROLINA finished the season attempting 814 free throws; the opponents attempted 843. This is just the third time UNC has attempted fewer free throws than the opponents (also in 1953-54 and 2001-02). The 843 free throw attempts are the most by the opponents since 1972 (853).

 

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/roy-williams-adding-fuel-to-2016-final-four-push/

No. 4 Carolina Meets No. 1 Wisconsin In West Coast Battle

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team, 26-11 overall, takes on top-seeded and 33-3 Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament West Regional Semifinal Thursday night at 7:47 p.m. in the Los Angeles STAPLES Center.

***Listen to the story***

For the veteran Badgers, the Sweet Sixteen has become customary. They’ve made it to this stage of the Big Dance in four of the past five years.

Frank Kaminsky is a special player for the Badgers (Badger Athletics)

Frank Kaminsky is a special player for the Badgers (Badger Athletics)

But this year, Wisconsin is the heavy favorite to progress even further. Armed with the first No.1 seeding designation in the school’s history, head coach Bo Ryan says he’s honored to represent the Big Ten in a big way.

“We’re just very pleased to represent the Big Ten and our University in the Sweet Sixteen. These guys definitely have had the kind of season that they’ve earned every inch of this. Hopefully we can go out to L.A. and get something done,” Coach Ryan says.

Less is more for Wisconsin. The fewer the number of possessions, the more of a premium will be placed on ball control, and frankly, up to this point, the Badgers have been far less turnover-prone than the Tar Heels.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says having played Virginia a couple times this season has helped Carolina prepare for the Wisconsin challenge.

An in-form Marcus Paige is vital for UNC's postseason success (Todd Melet)

An in-form Marcus Paige is vital for UNC’s postseason success (Todd Melet)

“Even if they’re not a team that traditionally plays slow, they’ll slow it down against us. They think that’s an advantage. We’ve played against that a lot this year. I think that will help us moving forward into this game. Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the country at doing that,” Paige says.

Although the Tar Heels would rather play an up-tempo style, UNC head coach Roy Williams says he’s not convinced his club will be able to establish a pace to their liking against the Badgers.

“Wisconsin is a one-seed for a reason. They’re able to get you to play their tempo more than you can get them to play the tempo you want. You guys have heard me say I’d much rather win in the 90’s, but if you want to be a really good team you’ve got to win in the 60’s or 50’s or whatever it is,” Coach Williams says.

The Tar Heels dive to the floor in their pregame ritual (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels dive to the floor in their pregame ritual (Todd Melet)

In practice this week, UNC has attempted to simulate the methodical tenor of the Wisconsin offense, but Coach Williams is under no illusions. The Hall of Famer says at this level, it’s hard to replicate what the best players in the nation can do.

“You can’t really simulate what the dickens Wisconsin is going to do. We talk to them about it, show them the tape and the whole bit, but you can’t do it. If they’re really good, you can’t really speed it up, you just better be able to play at a different pace,” Coach Williams says.

One of the stars in L.A. this weekend will be Wisconsin’s National Player of the Year candidate, Frank Kaminsky. The consensus Big Ten Player of the Year can do it all and is averaging 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

But Wisconsin is by no means a one-man show. Kaminsky says having all the pieces to the puzzle in place feeds into his confidence.

Roy Williams will no doubt be animated in the STAPLES Center (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams will no doubt be animated in the STAPLES Center (Todd Melet)

“We’re going into games expecting to compete, play hard and come out on top. When you get to stage like this, we were able to do it last year. We know what it takes. We know what we need to do on and off on the court. When you have that recipe for success with people in front of you, you know what it takes and know what to do,” Kaminsky says.

So what’s the game plan for Carolina? Coach Williams says the Tar Heels will need to lock in defensively, limit turnovers and make high-percentage shots.

“All the time I’m saying, ‘Let’s give them one bad shot.’ Our first goal is always to steal the ball, but you don’t do that much any more. I’m going to think about cutting down their field goal percentage, us making a high percentage and not turning the dadgum basketball over,” Coach Williams says.

UNC leads the all-time series with Wisconsin, 2-0, and won the most recent encounter in 2011, 60-57.

Join the Chapelboro Bracket Challenge to play along with other WCHL and Chapelboro fans and win great prizes!

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/no-4-carolina-meets-no-1-wisconsin-in-west-coast-battle/

Tar Heels Touch Ground In LA Reaching For Stars

The Tar Heels have touched down in L.A. and will be reaching for the stars in a town full of them when they suit it up against the top-seeded Wisconsin Badgers Thursday night at the Staples Center.

***Listen to the story***

For the first time since 2012, Carolina finds itself still dancing in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

But despite the hiatus, UNC head coach Roy Williams says his team hasn’t lost sight of its big dreams and aspirations.

Roy Williams will be looking to impart all his experience to his players (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams will be looking to impart all his experience to his players (Todd Melet)

“I think at this round, we’re happy where we are, but hopefully we’re not satisfied. I always tell them that each round you go, the excitement, the fun and everything gets so much greater,” Coach Williams says.

With that said, unlike in years past, Coach Williams says he’ll need to show this year’s squad the ropes. There aren’t many players on the roster who have experience in the latter rounds of March Madness.

But the good thing for Coach Williams is the Tar Heels should be all ears to his coaching.

“To me, it’s sort of like, ‘okay guys, you’ve never been here so you better listen to what we got to say,’” Coach Williams says.

Junior point guard Marcus Paige says he’s going to soak up every minute of the California sunshine and would prefer it be more than a few days’ stay.

“It will be a lot of fun. You never want the season to end. It’s winding down. Now I want to make it out of the second weekend. We made it out of the first; let’s make it out of the second. We’re looking forward to the challenge that Wisconsin brings,” Paige says.

Marcus Paige will need to continue his fine form Thursday (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige will need to continue his fine form Thursday (Todd Melet)

In contrast to the Tar Heels, Wisconsin has experience in spades. The Badgers have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in four of the past five seasons and most certainly aren’t satisfied with stopping at that stage this year.

The slow, methodical pacing to Wisconsin’s offense will be eerily reminiscent to the ACC’s Virginia. Luckily for the Tar Heels, they’ve experienced recent success against that plodding style. UNC topped UVA in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

But still, Paige says he knows the challenge ahead remains formidable.

“I think it’s so different from the way we want to play. Sometimes, we have issues with that and struggle with turnovers. In a game with fewer possessions, taking care of the ball becomes more important. We’re definitely capable of playing in these games,” Paige says.

Thursday’s challenge may be made even stiffer by the status of Kennedy Meeks’ knee injury. Right now, it remains a mystery. But Coach Williams says he’s doubtful he’ll have the sophomore forward’s services Thursday.

But with or without Meeks, the show must go on, and the Tar Heels will be hoping to avoid taking their final bow against the Badgers.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-touch-ground-in-la-reaching-for-stars/

‘Second-Half Marcus’ Back For Sweet Sixteen Trip

The Tar Heel men’s basketball  team defeated the fifth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday night in Jacksonville to advance to the second week of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

***Listen to the story***

The latter rounds of March Madness used to be a formality for the Tar Heels, but in recent years, nothing has been a guarantee. But here they are – back where Carolina belongs.

Yes, how sweet it is! Using an up-tempo pace more to Roy Williams’ liking, the Tar Heels fought past the Razorbacks, 87-78, to advance and keep their big dreams of national glory alive.

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 26-11 overall while the Razorbacks finished their season with a 27-9 tally.

Coach Williams certainly had plenty to smile about after the game. The Hall of Famer tied his mentor, the late Dean Smith, with 65 NCAA Tournament wins – second-most all-time.

Things apparently got a little wild in the postgame locker room.

And you can’t blame Roy for celebrating; he says it’s been a tough year.

“Losing Coach Smith, losing Ted Seagroves – my big-time buddy, losing Stuart Scott, the stuff we’ve had going on, it’s been a hard year – it really has. I probably acted sillier in the locker room after this game than I have in quite a while. I’m going to try to enjoy the dickens out of this one for a while,” Coach Williams says.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige went off in Jacksonville, scoring 20 of his eventual 22 points in the second half to lead the Carolina scoring charge.

Yes, ‘Second-Half’ Marcus is back, folks!

Paige taking it to the basket (Todd Melet)

Paige taking it to the basket (Todd Melet)

“I think it was more the media that pegged that name on me. My teammates went along with it after it got some notoriety. I don’t know what that’s all about. I just try to help my team win. In big moments, I feel like I get put into positions to succeed by my teammates. Sometimes, if you have a poor first half you want to do whatever you can to erase that and make up for it,” Paige says.

Paige’s renewed health was put on full display and with a zero turnover performance turned in by teammate J.P. Tokoto, the Tar Heels proved to be a formidable force.

Can Carolina keep it going? Thursday will be the next chance to watch the Heels strive to achieve ‘elite’ status, or rather, advance to the Elite Eight round of the Big Dance.

Join the Chapelboro Bracket Challenge to play along with other WCHL and Chapelboro fans and win great prizes!

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/second-half-marcus-back-for-sweet-sixteen-trip/

Sweet Caroline! Tar Heels Top Razorbacks To Advance

Using an up-tempo pace more to Roy Williams’ liking, the fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team fought past fifth-seeded Arkansas Saturday night, 87-78, to advance to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 26-11 overall while the Razorbacks finished their season with a 27-9 tally.

Coach Williams certainly had plenty to smile about after the game. The Hall of Famer tied his mentor, the late Dean Smith, with 65 NCAA Tournament wins – second-most all-time.

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

Things apparently got a little wild in the postgame locker room.

“It would be the most embarrassing thing of my life probably, so I’ll just leave it like that,” Coach Williams says. “But I do enjoy acting silly and having fun. I am emotional and wear my feelings on my sleeve a lot in both directions, very happily or very mad, too. … I hope the cameras weren’t all over the locker room, let’s put it that way.”

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige went off in Jacksonville, scoring 20 of his eventual 22 points in the second half to lead the Carolina scoring charge.

“Well, if I could play just as well in the first half as I do in the second half, I would prefer to do that, but sometimes it happens that way,” says Paige, who has been nicknamed “Second-half Marcus.” “Sometimes, if you have a poor first half, you want to do whatever you can to erase that and make up for it the second, and that’s what I’ve been able to do a couple times.”

Paige’s renewed health was put on full display and with a zero turnover performance turned in by teammate J.P. Tokoto, the Tar Heels proved to be a formidable force.

J.P. Tokoto cleaned up his act Saturday night (UNC Athletics)

J.P. Tokoto cleaned up his act Saturday night (UNC Athletics)

Arkansas junior Michael Qualls led his squad with 27 points and 10 rebounds, but Razorback head coach Mike Anderson says he was disappointed in the officiating, especially down the stretch.

“I thought the thing that really disrupted the game was a lot of free throws, a lot of whistles,” Coach Anderson says. “It was almost opposite of the first half. The first half they let them play, and I guess in the second half they said, `Let’s slow this down. We can’t keep up with them. Let’s slow it down.”

Despite UNC big man Kennedy Meeks picking up his fourth foul a mere three minutes into the second half, the Tar Heels managed to maintain a somewhat comfortable lead in the waning moments.

The Tar Heels will now face the winner of Sunday’s contest between top-seeded Wisconsin and No. 8 seed Oregon Thursday in Los Angeles.

FINAL BOX SCORE

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http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/sweet-caroline-tar-heels-top-razorbacks-to-advance/

Tar Heels Hoping To Clean Up Act Against Arkansas

After surviving Harvard’s upset bid Thursday night, the fourth-seeded UNC men’s basketball team turns its attention to fifth-seeded Arkansas for a Round of 32 meeting Saturday night at 8:40 p.m. in Jacksonville.

***Listen to the story***

17 turnovers. That’s a stat that’s had Roy Williams scratching his head since the Harvard great escape.

But it’s not a new dilemma. The Tar Heels, sporting a 25-11 record overall; have struggled to take care of the basketball all season long.

Justin Jackson came up big Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson came up big Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Nevertheless, they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and after a narrow 67-65 victory in round two of the NCAA Tournament, Coach Williams is relieved.

“Right now I feel like I won the lottery. Tommy Amaker did a much better with his team than I did with mine. We were extremely lucky. It’s the luckiest I’ve ever felt after a basketball game in my entire life,” Coach Williams says.

UNC freshman Justin Jackson emerged as the hero against Harvard, scoring the game’s final four points when all the momentum was going the other way.

Jackson says he was mentally prepared to step up and take the final shot.

“If I was open, I was going to shoot it. If they come up on me, I wasn’t going to, but they backed off,” Jackson says.

Everybody’s a winner come tournament time. They all know how to win. That’s why any slips in concentration can prove especially fatal.

Jackson says the Tar Heels can’t afford to take the pedal off the metal at this point.

Theo Pinson is back healthy and adds to UNC's depth off the bench (Todd Melet)

Theo Pinson is back healthy and adds to UNC’s depth off the bench (Todd Melet)

“There were times that we were all the way in it. Then there were lulls where I don’t know what it was, we just kind of relaxed. Harvard’s a great team and took advantage of that,” Jackson says.

Arkansas, 27-8 overall, slipped by Wofford, 56-53, in a back-and-forth game that featured 18 lead changes, 10 ties and neither team ahead by more than five points.

Razorback head coach Mike Anderson says he’s just fortunate to still be dancing.

“What a gutsy performance. It was a game that was played at their pace. We were fortunate to be on the winning side. They just ran out of time. Thank goodness they ran out of time. But we executed when we had to,” Coach Anderson says.

The Tar Heels will have to look out for SEC Player of the Year Michael Qualls. The junior guard scored 20 points Thursday night and can morph into a one-man highlight reel at times. The guy’s been a regular on the SportsCenter Top 10 plays segment.

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls is a game-changing player for the Razorbacks (Wholehogsports.com)

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls is a game-changing player for the Razorbacks (Wholehogsports.com)

Can the Tar Heels contain him Saturday? It will be an intriguing proposition for junior forward J.P. Tokoto and company.

But Jackson is more concerned with the play of his own team. In particular, he says the lapses in concentration that have plagued Carolina for the majority of the season have got to be wiped out.

“It’s not ‘is what it is’. It’s the first round game and Harvard is a great team. We just got to go back and change it. Next game, we can’t have that because the next game will be even harder. We’ve talked about it all season, but it’s the NCAA Tournament, so we’ve got to change it,” Jackson says.

If the Tar Heels can cut out the sloppy stretches of basketball and avoid turnovers, they’ve demonstrated a strong proclivity to scoring on offense and should be in good shape. But if the erratic play continues, Saturday could very well be the final destination in UNC’s postseason journey.

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‘Lucky’ Tar Heels Hold Off Crimson, Survive and Advance

UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto knocked down a silky smooth three-pointer to open proceedings Thursday evening inside the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Carolina. The waters got rocky.

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team built a hefty 16-point lead in the second half and from there, held on for dear life down the stretch to scrape past a pesky Harvard team, 67-65. With the victory, the Tar Heels survived to fight another day in the NCAA Tournament and improved to 25-11 on the season.

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Roy Williams was in full voice Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams was in full voice Thursday night (Todd Melet)

With the loss, the Crimson finish with a 22-8 overall record and 11-3 mark in Ivy League play.

17 turnovers almost sent the Tar Heels to the exit doors early, but thanks to freshman forward Justin Jackson, Carolina found the escape hatch in the nick of time.

Jackson, who finished with a team-leading 14 points, saved the day for UNC, finishing with a flourish. Jackson scored the game’s final four points to avoid the upset bug on a day that was already full of them.

“I feel like I won the lottery. Tommy Amaker did a much better job with his team than I did with mine,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Carolina’s length and athleticism troubled Harvard for the majority of the contest and allowed UNC to amass a 36-26 rebounding advantage and an edge in points in the paint. But Harvard capitalized on those 17 Carolina turnovers to the tune of 29 points to get to the doorstep of victory.

“You can’t say enough about the effort our kids put forth. We battled to get back in it. I thought we played with great poise. Wesley Saunders […] carried us to put us into position to have a chance. I’m very proud of our team,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker says.

Harvard senior guard Wesley Saunders did all he could for his team, totaling a game-high 26 points on 8-14 shooting. Routinely, Saunders left the Tar Heels in the dust on his way to the basket – beating them off the dribble.

“He was a load. We knew that. Last year, he was player of the year in their league. We tried to focus on him with our team. J.P. [Tokoto] really did a pretty doggone job, but he was really hard to guard,” Coach Williams says.

And yes, there was only one reason Harvard was hanging around in the early going…that was Saunders, who scored his team’s first ten points. Meanwhile, Carolina was getting contributions from a cast of characters ranging from big man Joel James to streaky sophomore Isaiah Hicks to points leader Marcus Paige.

J.P. Tokoto tallied 7 points and grabbed 7 rebounds (Todd Melet)

J.P. Tokoto tallied 7 points and grabbed 7 rebounds (Todd Melet)

An 11-0 UNC run spearheaded by a suffocating defense set the tenor of the contest. When Kennedy Meeks is beating opponents down the floor for a quick score, it’s not a good sign for the opposing team. That happened Thursday night.

However, some sloppy turnovers and an over four-minute scoring drought from Carolina in the waning moments of the first half kept Harvard alive, but by halftime, the Tar Heels had stretched out their scoreboard lead to a 36-25 margin thanks to 56-percent shooting from the floor.

The second half opened with a Justin Jackson three-point snipe that got the Heels off and running again, building up what seemed like a commanding 16-point lead. Carolina was having its way on the glass using every last mismatch inside to its advantage.

Justin Jackson saved the day for Carolina (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson saved the day for Carolina (Todd Melet)

But there was no quit in the Crimson. Things got mighty interesting. Harvard took the lead at 65-63 on a three-pointer and a foul from who else but Saunders with under two minutes to play. Scrappy, opportunistic offense coupled with a methodical tempo powered the determined Crimson attack.

Meanwhile, Carolina couldn’t do much right in the closing stretch with turnover after turnover leading to a lot of concerned looks on the Tar Heels’ faces.

But in the end, the rally fell short. The Heels somehow remained cool under pressure in the crucible of the inspired late-game surge by their opponents. When Saunders’ final three-point shot – an open look – missed its mark, Roy Williams and the rest of Tar Heel Nation could breathe a huge sigh of relief.

“I’m thrilled we’re still here and still playing. These two guys – Marcus [Paige] made two big shots and Justin [Jackson] made two big shots. If we had played a little bit better, it may not have required that, but you have to give Harvard credit. It’s driving me wacko, but having said that, we’re still here playing,” Coach Williams says.

Despite the scare, Coach Williams kept his unblemished record intact. The Hall of Famer is now 25-0 in Round of 64 NCAA Tournament games as a head coach.

Next up for the Heels comes a Saturday Round of 32 meeting with fifth-seeded Arkansas, who downed No. 12 Wofford, 56-53.

FINAL BOX SCORE

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Win or Go Home: UNC’s Tourney Journey Begins With Harvard Obstacle

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team, 24-11 overall and 11-7 in ACC play, gets its 2015 NCAA Tournament campaign underway Thursday night at 7:20 p.m. in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The opponent? The No. 13 seeds and Ivy League champions, the Harvard Crimson.

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Expectations are always high for the Tar Heels this time of year. But what’s the secret to NCAA Tournament success?

The Tar Heels will be hoping for a deep push in the NCAA Tournament (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels will be hoping for a deep push in the NCAA Tournament (Todd Melet)

UNC head coach Roy Williams has been to seven Final Fours and says it’s a mixture of skill and mentality.

“First of all, talent. The one thing we understand is how significant and important it is. We try to be ready to play the first day. We’ve always tried to get our kids to understand the next game and not to be looking down the road. I think we really do focus on the first opponent and do that all the way through it,” Coach Williams says.

So does this year’s Carolina squad have the makings of a Final Four group? Coach Williams says recent developments have him optimistic.

“I think two things get me a little excited. One, I think we’re getting a little healthier, which always makes it easier. The other thing, I think we gained something from the ACC Tournament. I think at times, we played very well. We showed some toughness, played four games in four days and were fresh in the fourth game because we wanted to be fresh mentally,” Coach Williams says.

But there are a couple fallibilities that could keep the Tar Heels from their ultimate quest for Indianapolis.

“That’s been the story all year long. We’ve got to cut down on the turnovers, stop making the silly fouls and make sure we do a much better job on the backboards. Some of the games this year we’ve been great rebounding. Silly fouls and the turnovers are what we have to improve on all the time,” Coach Williams says.

A healthy Marcus Paige is vital for UNC's postseason success (Todd Melet)

A healthy Marcus Paige is vital for UNC’s postseason success (Todd Melet)

Tommy Amaker’s Harvard Crimson program, 22-7 overall and 11-3 in league action, is getting well adjusted to life in March Madness. For the fourth straight season, Harvard will represent the Ivy League in the bracket.

Coach Amaker says his players are hoping to acquit themselves well against a program they have a great deal of respect for.

“We’re healthy, excited and are very hopeful for our kids to embrace the moment against a program and a team that’s historic and storied. We certainly have an amazing amount of respect and admiration for UNC and their historic program. What an opportunity for us and amazing moment for us to represent our school and our conference,” Coach Amaker says.

The feeling is mutual. Coach Williams says his relationship with Coach Amaker spans back a few decades.

“I really enjoy and like Tommy Amaker. I competed against him when he was at Duke. I was an assistant here [UNC]. I talk to Tommy on the road all the time. I think he’s a marvelous person and has done a really nice job there. Our team will be focused on Harvard. We won’t be looking past them,” Coach Williams says.

Interestingly, Harvard leads the all-time series with Carolina 2-0, but not much stock should be placed in that head-to-head. After all, the two schools haven’t met on the hardwood since 1926.

JP Tokoto assaults the rim (Todd Melet)

JP Tokoto assaults the rim (Todd Melet)

One of the X-factors for the Tar Heels is generally rangy, athletic junior forward J.P. Tokoto, who can lock in defensively and provide electrifying offensive fireworks.

Tokoto says attention to detail and focus will determine UNC’s tournament destiny.

“It’s win or go home. Our level of intensity and level we play at is going to be huge for us. It’s going to be a determining factor of whether we’re going to stay in the tournament and be able to play or be sent home early,” Tokoto says.

That’s the Big Dance – equal parts tragedy and ecstasy. It’s what makes it such compelling theatre. The Tar Heels hope to have an extended stay on the game’s grandest stage.

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Tar Heels Head To Jacksonville, Face Harvard In Round of 64

The wait is over. The brackets are out and Jacksonville, Florida is the destination for the UNC men’s basketball team’s first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

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UNC checks in as the No. 4 seed in the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and will face No. 13 seed Harvard, winner of the Ivy League, Thursday at 7:20p.m. in the Sunshine State.

The Harvard players react to their NCAA selection announcement (Crimson Athletics)

The Harvard players react to their NCAA selection announcement (Crimson Athletics)

“I really, really enjoy and like (Harvard head coach) Tommy Amaker. We competed against him when he was at Duke and I was an assistant here. I talk to Tommy on the road all the time; I think he’s a marvelous person. He’s done a really nice job there. Our team will be focused on Harvard. We won’t be looking past them,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

The winner of the Carolina-Harvard game will play the winner of the game between fifth-seeded Arkansas and 12th-seeded Wofford Saturday in Jacksonville.

Big Ten champion Wisconsin is the top seed in the West region and should the Tar Heels survive the opening weekend, would likely face off with the Badgers and National Player of the Year candidate, Frank Kaminsky, in the Sweet Sixteen.

Carolina has struggled to put together a complete 40 minutes of clean, air-tight basketball this season. But Coach Williams says people shouldn’t be questioning his team’s desire and want-to.

“I say some things a lot of times about sense of urgency, but our guys have tremendous heart. I’ve had some really good teams that maybe didn’t have a sense of urgency on every possession, but that didn’t mean they didn’t want to win as much as anybody else. Everybody is not built like Tyler Hansbrough or Raymond Felton. People want to criticize our kids, that’s okay, they don’t have anything better to do,” Coach Williams says.

Junior forward Brice Johnson, who’s quietly rounding into form, says the Tar Heels proved the doubters wrong with their inspired play in the ACC Tournament.

Brice Johnson and the Tar Heels came up just short of an ACC title vs. Notre Dame (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson and the Tar Heels came up just short of an ACC title vs. Notre Dame (Todd Melet)

“People probably counted us out at the beginning of the [ACC] Tournament. They didn’t think we’d make it this far. We really showed a lot of toughness and heart to come in and be able to go four days in a row and make it to the championship,” Johnson says.

Johnson says despite the disappointing defeat to Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game, he’s confident in UNC’s upward trajectory.

“I feel great. Even though we didn’t get this win, we did grow on all levels as a team. We just need to cut down a little more on the mistakes, and we’ll be right there. We are a great team. We’re starting to gel together and starting to play a little more to our potential,” Johnson says.

Coach Williams agrees with Johnson. He’s happy with the growth of his team heading into the Big Dance.

“I think we’ve grown in the four days we’ve been here [in Greensboro]. We’ve shown some toughness during those four days. We played better defensively,” Coach Williams says.

Justin Jackson on the dribble (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson on the dribble (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams is also quick to point out that success in the ACC Tournament is not a direct correlation to NCAA Tournament success. He gives a little history lesson.

“My teams have taken me to seven Final Fours. Only one time, did we ever win the conference tournament. That was in 2008. Every other time, we lost, even in 2005 and 2009 when we won the national championship, we lost in the conference tournament. This has a chance to make a really good run. We’ve got some things we’ve got to improve on, there’s no question,” Coach Williams says.

And if the Tar Heels do continue to improve, who knows? 2015 could offer a memorable postseason run.

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