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Experience helps UNC net overtime victory against Rhode Island

Freshman John Henson continued his postseason success with six points and 12 rebounds. DTH/Katherine Vance
Freshman John Henson continued his postseason success with six points and 12 rebounds. DTH/Katherine Vance

NEW YORK — A Nestle iced tea bottle flew on the court in the seconds following North Carolina’s 68-67 victory in the semifinals of the NIT.

It landed a few feet away from where Rhode Island’s Lamonte Ulmer was sprawled out on the court, despondent after the Rams came up just short against the Tar Heels.

The beverage’s unusual landing spot was the result of a couple questionable calls late in the game, the biggest one a no-call in which it looked like Ulmer tripped over UNC junior Will Graves.

And though a partisan Rhode Island crowd inside Madison Square Garden vehemently disagreed, Graves was coy with his comment afterward.

“No comment,” Graves said.

And while the end of the game was in question, it was experience that put UNC in a position to nab the victory.

Senior Deon Thompson didn’t start the way he wanted in his 151st game at North Carolina.

In the game in which he tied the NCAA record for games played, Thompson found himself with space about 15 feet from the basket on UNC’s first possession.

He set up for his patented midrange jumper and rose to hit the bucket he has drained countless times in his UNC career.

But instead of finding the bottom of the net, his shot clanged off the back of the rim and into the arms of Rhode Island’s Delroy James.

Undaunted, Thompson established post position a minute later and backed down a Rhode Island defender beneath the basket once he received the ball.

But as he rose to bank in a layup, Ulmer came from the backside and blocked his shot into the crowd at the Garden.

And on his third shot attempt, Thompson lost the ball when he hit the underside of the backboard on the way up.

“It was definitely tough with the easy baskets I was missing at the beginning. They were point blank ones,” Thompson said. “Rhode Island did a good job of speeding everybody up, and we were going too fast instead of taking our time.”

But a player doesn’t participate in all those games without learning a few veteran lessons.

While Thompson struggled from the field the rest of the game — scoring 16 points on 6-for-20 shooting — the senior didn’t let his shooting woes affect the rest of his game.

He and fellow senior Marcus Ginyard made up for those misses with veteran efforts on the glass and pivotal plays down the stretch to keep UNC within striking distance.

Thompson added a team-high 13 rebounds to register his second straight double-double, while Ginyard nabbed 10 rebounds to offset his 0-for-3 shooting.

With less than a minute remaining in the first half and UNC down 30-27, Thompson received a pass in stride from Drew and finished a layup despite a hard slap on the wrist. Thompson sank the free throw to tie the score, then drew a charge at the defensive end to preserve a tie game at intermission.

Plays like those allowed Drew to slice through the lane for a game-tying bucket in the last minute of regulation for the game-defining play, and they put UNC in a position to grind out an “ugly win,” as Williams put it.

For the game, the Tar Heels outrebounded the Rams 60-45. Twenty-seven of those were of the offensive variety.

“I think the biggest difference is we’ve competed harder,” Williams said. “Deon dove on the floor and got a possession in the first half … John (Henson) chased down a loose ball.

“Those simple little things like that are really big for you, especially in a one-point game.”

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