UNC survives vs. Arkansas, advances to Sweet 16
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- North Carolina saw its season flash before its collective eyes, and the Tar Heels did everything they could to make sure they would play another day.
Top-seeded North Carolina scored the final 12 points to beat eighth-seeded Arkansas 72-65 and avoid an upset Sunday night in the NCAA Tournament’s second round at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
“We finally stopped them a couple times and made plays,” North Carolina forward Justin Jackson said. “Our season was on the line. ... It was just believing. Believing we can win.”
Isaiah Hicks scored six of the points in the winning spurt, sending North Carolina to the Sweet 16 for the 22nd time since 1985. The Tar Heels eliminated the Razorbacks in the second round for the second time in three seasons and third time overall (also in 2008).
North Carolina (29-7) will play fourth-seeded Butler in the South Region’s semifinals on Friday night in Memphis, Tenn.
Kennedy Meeks scored 16 points and Jackson added 15 for the Tar Heels. Point guard Joel Berry, whose status was somewhat in doubt prior to the game because of an ankle injury suffered Friday, ended up with 10, yet shot 2-for-13 from the field.
Daryl Macon’s 19 points and Anton Beard’s 10, both off the bench, led Arkansas (26-10).
“We wanted to mess up some brackets today,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Close doesn’t get it done.”
Arkansas went ahead 47-46 with 13:05 remaining, wiping out what had been a 17-point hole and going up by four.
“We started taking bad shots,” Hicks said. “They took advantage of it. The last three minutes we picked it up.”
The Razorbacks made five of their first eight 3-point attempts in the second half.
With a chance to build on a three-point lead, Arkansas scored on only one of five possessions during a stretch that ended with a turnover at the 3:43 mark.
But Jaylen Barford scored on a reverse layup in transition for a 65-60 edge.
North Carolina scored the rest of the points. Meeks converted on a tip-in as the shot clock was about to expire for a three-point led.
“We had never won a game like this this year,” Jackson said. “We have a bunch of different players who and make plays and that showed.”
Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley missed two foul shots with 25.2 seconds to play. At the other end, Berry missed the front end of a 1-and-1 before Beard’s potential 3 bounced high off the rim.
Two Hicks free throws and Jackson’s dunk off Arkansas’ 19th turnover completed the scoring.
The Razorbacks didn’t score in the last 3:28.
“We had some bad decisions,” Anderson said. “Credit that to the defense.”
North Carolina, which scored the game’s first eight points, led 38-33 at halftime.
The early lead grew to 25-11 by the 8:19 mark, resulting in the second Arkansas timeout of the half. Tony Bradley had seven of North Carolina’s points off the bench.
After trailing by as many as 17, Arkansas scored on seven straight possessions to pull within 32-28. The Tar Heels converted on their next three chances, but the momentum had been dashed.
The Razorbacks had 10 first-half turnovers, but mostly weathered North Carolina’s 14 offensive rebounds before the break.
Arkansas came back from double-digit deficits to win six times this season, and was on the verge of doing it again.
Kingsley, the Arkansas scoring leader, missed his first five shots and had two points at the half. He finished with nine points.
North Carolina committed 10 of its 17 turnovers in the second half.
NOTES: Six of North Carolina’s players took part in the Tar Heels’ 87-78 second-round victory against Arkansas two years ago, at Jacksonville, Fla. ... North Carolina junior F Justin Jackson’s 3-pointer in the opening minutes gave him 96, setting a single-season school record. ... Arkansas was trying to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996. ... With 11 victories on the road or on neutral courts, Arkansas had the most success in that category in 22 seasons. ... North Carolina is 57-11 all-time as a No. 1 seed.