That was the mindset of the guards and wings of the North Carolina men’s basketball team as they scouted Garrison Mathews. And in an 84-66 win over Lipscomb in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, that’s exactly what they did.
Mathews entered the game averaging 22.1 points per game — the 12th best mark in the country and fourth best among players in the tournament. The 6-foot-5 guard set Lipscomb’s single-game scoring record with 43 points back in January.
He continued that pace in the 2018 Atlantic Sun Tournament, dropping 33 in Lipscomb’s championship game win and taking home MVP honors. Theo Pinson was coincidentally watching that same game, keeping up with former high school teammate Michael Buckland.
“I knew if he got going, it could be a long night for us,” Pinson said of Mathews.
Mathews made a highlight-reel play early on, when he picked off a Luke Maye pass in the low post and raced the other way. Kenny Williams ran back and tried to take a charge, but Mathews finished an acrobatic and-one layup over him, tossing the ball in with his right hand while nearly parallel with the Spectrum Center’s court.
From that point forward, a mix of Pinson, Williams and Brandon Robinson pestered Lipscomb’s leading scorer. Pinson blocked one of his 3-pointers, and Robinson drew an offensive foul on Mathews as he drove toward the middle and lowered his shoulder.
That foul proved much more important than expected. When Mathews recorded his second foul at the 6:37 mark, he left the court and didn’t return for the rest of the first half. In his absence, UNC went on a 12-1 run and gave itself a 43-34 halftime advantage.
"Defensively, Pinson and Williams, they played great,” said Mathews, who had five points at halftime. “It was tough to get shots off for sure.”
Entering Friday afternoon’s game, UNC (26-10) was allowing 9.7 threes per game, the worst mark in school history. At the under-16 media timeout, things looked more the same: Lipscomb was 3-5 from downtown and held a 12-9 lead. After that break, however, the 15th-seeded Bisons shot just 1-12 on threes for the rest of the half.
“They started the game off hot from three; they got some good looks,” Williams said. “So once we got under control, once we settled in, we started to make it tough on them.”
In a second half that UNC dominated offensively, Mathews scored just once more. Trapped in the left corner by Pinson after picking up his dribble, he made a tough, leaning-in 3-pointer to beat the shot clock. Pinson simply laughed and shook his head after the shot went in.
Joel Berry II complimented his teammates for fighting around screens and keeping Mathews from easy looks, as well as staying down on his pump fakes. Mathews finished the game with eight points on 3-14 shooting, including just 1-7 on threes.
As a team, Lipscomb (23-10) shot 35.9 percent from the field in its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. In terms of opponent field-goal percentage, it was UNC’s fourth best defensive game of the season. The Bisons also shot 25 percent on three pointers — the lowest percentage the Tar Heels have allowed this season.
With the win, second-seeded UNC moved to 30-1 in first-round tournament games and 34-1 in tournament games in North Carolina. Next up is No. 7 seed Texas A&M, which beat No. 10 seed Providence, 73-69, earlier on Saturday.
But until then, North Carolina can enjoy what was statistically one of its best defensive games this season.