CHAPEL HILL– The No. 14 North Carolina men’s basketball team defeated the Davidson Wildcats 97-85 in an overtime thriller Saturday evening in the Dean Smith Center.

The Tar Heels improved to 8-3 on the season while the struggling Wildcats dropped to 4-8. It was a closer than expected battle thanks in large part to Wildcat Brian Sullivan. The sophomore guard scored 33 points.

JP Tokoto led the way for Carolina with 22 points, a career high. And Marcus Paige emerged down the stretch, despite a scoreless first half, to help guide Carolina to the gutsy win.

The Tar Heels were without the services of Joel James as he is expected to be out 10-14 days with an MCL sprain in his right knee. Brice Johnson got the start in place of James.

Carolina won the opening tip, but failed to convert on an easy layup attempt. A turnover caused by Tokoto stopped the Davidson attack as both teams jockeyed for early control in a scoreless affair over a minute into the contest.

Davidson’s Chris Czerapowicz scored the first bucket of the game to give the Wildcats the 2-0 lead. Brice Johnson pivoted, but got caught under the backboard on the next possession. He was called for travel.

Tyler Kalinoski added another score for the Wildcats, but Tokoto answered with a nice basket of his own to place the score at 5-2 in favor of the visiting Wildcats, coached by veteran Bob McKillop.

Tokoto slammed one home to get the crowd into the game and close the Tar Heels within a single point with 16:11 on the first half clock.

The crowd gave James Michael McAdoo a rousing cheer when he managed to make both of his free throw attempts following his debacle at the line a game ago against Texas. With 15:15 left in the half, Davidson was tied with Carolina at 9-9.

Kennedy Meeks layed one in to get his first points of the day, and give Carolina the 11-9 edge. Davidson pressured UNC inside on the other end, drawing a foul on Tokoto. The Wildcats made both foul shots to get the tie at 11.

McAdoo was very active on the glass and was making some nice defensive plays as well early on. Next up, Nate Britt knocked down a shot to contribute to UNC’s score count.

With 13:03 on the clock, the Tar Heels had the 15-12 advantage. But Davidson’s Brian Sullivan knocked down a smooth floater to cut the lead to a single point. The Wildcats were shooting lights out from the floor with nearly a sixty percent shooting percentage.

Sullivan was at it again, already into double figures when he nailed a long-range three-pointer to push his Wildcats back in front in this topsy-turvy game.

Leslie McDonald tied the score at 19 with his smooth three-pointer for UNC. Tokoto continued to slash his way around the court, earning a trip to the free throw line, making one of two. Carolina had the 24-19 lead with under 10 minutes to play in the half when McAdoo ran down the floor for layup off a Wildcat turnover.

Tokoto got to the line with some physical play in the paint. The sophomore forward made them both. UNC led Davidson 26-21 with 7:56 left in the half.

Meeks banked the ball in the hoop with 6:43 on the clock to give Carolina the 28-22 advantage. Some crisp passing was befuddling the Wildcats.

A layup from Jackson Simmons off a beautiful pass from McAdoo put UNC up 31-22 and forced a Davidson timeout at 6:05 on the clock.

After the timeout, Davidson responded. Sullivan launched another bomb from the outside and hit his target. With 4:24 left in the half, the Tar Heels maintained a slim 33-29 lead.

Tokoto was putting together a great game. He scored again to give Carolina the 37-31 lead with 1:38 left in the half.

A flagrant foul was called on Davidson, giving McAdoo a trip to the free throw line. He connected one one of the attempts.

At the half, it was Carolina clinging to a slim 38-35 lead. Tokoto had posted 14 points to lead the Tar Heels. Marcus Paige was surprisingly held scoreless in the opening half. Overall, UNC shot 37.1 percent from the floor and 62.5 percent from the foul line.

Meanwhile for Davidson, Sullivan was leading the scorers with 13 points. The Wildcats were shooting 50 percent from the floor, but a mere 33.3 percent from the foul line.

To start the second half, McAdoo got to a familiar place, the foul line. He made one of them to get to double figures on the night. Sullivan continued his impressive shooting with a three-pointer to get the Wildcats within one, and then they took the lead with another make to go up 41-39 with 18:31 left in the game.

Britt made a quick bounce pass to Tokoto inside to grab the tie for the Tar Heels. But a goal tending call on the other end pushed the Wildcats ahead once again at 43-41.

Another three-point dagger by Sullivan put Davidson up 46-42 with 16:36 to play. McDonald then dished it inside to Meeks for a score to reduce the arrears.

Paige continued to struggle offensively on this night. Another shot bounded off the rim, and with 15:38 remaining, Carolina was down 46-44 to Davidson.

Head Coach Roy Williams was visibly upset court side with his team’s play. Davidson extended the lead out to 49-44.

McAdoo drew a foul and made both his free throws to the delight of the crowd. The game flipped on its head when McAdoo converted on a steal and Meeks responded with a make of his own inside to push the Tar Heels ahead 50-49 with 14:30 left in the game.

Davidson called a timeout with 12:46 remaining. At that stage, UNC had the 52-51 edge.

Meeks was at it again, using his size as a strength to bully his way to a score, but the Wildcats answered the score immediately.

McDonald stepped to the foul line with 11:55 left in the contest. McDonald knocked down both attempts.

Tokoto tipped the ball through the nets to ignite the crowd and give the Tar Heels a 58-53 margin. And Johnson followed that up with a rebound and a score as UNC began to establish its authority in the Smith Center.

A nice drive for a score by Czerapowicz kept the Wildcats in the game with a shout. Meeks delivered for the Tar Heels, though, nabbing one of his two foul shots.

Tokoto continued his fine play on a career night in scoring. he made both of his free throws in his trip to the charity stripe. And with under nine minutes to play, UNC held a 63-57 lead.

McAdoo netted another bucket, but another three by Sullivan got him to a career-high level. The Tar Heels couldn’t shake the resilient Davidson squad.. It was a 67-65 nail-biter.

A timeout at the 6:12 mark provided an opportunity for both teams to reorganize for the home stretch. Carolina was up 69-65.

Sullivan had amassed 26 points, a career high. Somehow, he was continually finding ways to get open. The score was knotted up at 69 with 5:00 remaining when McAdoo assumed his spot on the foul line.

Paige was scoreless no more when he layed one in to get the fans on their feet. But a disappointing evening for Brice Johnson came to an end when he picked up his fifth foul, taking a seat on the bench in frustration.

Davidson took the lead 73-72 with under three minutes in the game. The tension was palpable in the Dean Dome. Meeks was put back on the court to add some size to the Tar Heel lineup.

And it worked out immediately. Meeks scored on a nice dish and picked up a foul on the play. But he missed on the opportunity for a three-point play.

Sullivan slid in another outside shot from behind the arc to get the two-point lead for Davidson. And a pass slipped through McDonald’s hands to give the ball back to the Wildcats.

McDonald fouled out for the first time in his career on a controversial charge call. McAdoo tied up the game at 76 with under a minute to play.

But Davidson went ahead again with an easy score on the other end. Britt earned a trip to the foul line to try to tie up the game yet again. But the freshman could not convert on both, only coming good on one.

With 38.4 ticks left on the clock, Paige forced the ball inside to draw a foul and get to the stripe for the first time on the night. He made both of the shots in clutch fashion. It was tied at 79 points.

Davidson could hold for the last shot, and some good defensive pressure forced Sullivan to take Davidson’s final timeout.

Of course, Sullivan got the final shot, but it clanged off the rim as time expired. Overtime play was coming.

Paige opened up the extra period with a score, darting to the basket. Britt followed his lead with an impressive jumper that swished through the nets. Carolina grabbed the 83-79 lead with 3:46 left in overtime.

Paige had finally emerged. He got back to the foul line and made both. Marcus Paige took the roof off the Dean Dome roof with an electric three-pointer that gave UNC an 88-80 lead with 2:34 to go in the overtime period.

Sullivan starting misfiring on his normally reliable outside shooting. The momentum had swung in favor of Carolina.

In the end, UNC did just enough to escape with the win, displaying some tenacious play down the stretch to deny the Wildcats the upset.