GREENSBORO — Texas coach Rick Barnes admitted he had a “phobia of playing North Carolina in late-game situations.”
But in the final seconds in a virtual home match for UNC, his freshman guard Cory Joseph had no fear.
With his team tied with 1.4 seconds remaining in the contest, the 6-foot-3 Longhorn got defender Dexter Strickland in the air, spun right and knocked down a jumper from the top of the key to give Texas the 78-76 win against UNC on Saturday.
“It was a tough shot and he’s a great player,” Strickland said. “I could have done a better job of not going for the first shot — the pump fake — just staying down and contesting the shot even better.”
But UNC coach Roy Williams pointed out that the Tar Heels had their chances late in the game after coming back from a 10-point deficit in the first half. Harrison Barnes missed a wide-open lay-up in the second half and later Tyler Zeller missed a point-blank hook with his left hand.
No. 22 Texas (9-2) won the physicality contest against the Tar Heels, outmuscling UNC for most of the first half. That aggressiveness, especially in the post, helped the Longhorns to a 10-point lead with 7:30 remaining in the half.
UNC battled back with the help of the backcourt as Strickland and Kendall Marshall combined for seven points in the final 1:51 of the half to give the Tar Heels a one-point advantage.
“We hurt ourselves immensely with the lack of toughness and lack of intensity early but I loved the way we came back,” Williams said.
UNC (7-4) remained cold from beyond the arc. The team averaged 34.3 percent from 3-land entering Saturday’s contest and shot 3-for-11 against the Longhorns. Justin Watts finally knocked one down halfway through the second period.
North Carolina’s lead blossomed to as many as seven points on three occasions in the second half, with the last seven-pointer coming with 5:43 remaining in the game. Texas took its first lead since the first half on a Gary Johnson field goal with just less than three minutes remaining.
Barnes, a preseason All-American, racked up 16 points and went 5-for-5 from the free throw line. With 12 seconds remaining and his team down by three, Barnes stroked a deadly 3-ball to knot the game at 76.
After the game, Strickland said he wanted to tackle and hug Barnes following a Texas timeout. But Barnes showed no emotion in the immediate aftermath of the swish.
“We were down three and I knew it was a big shot,” he said. “I felt comfortable taking it.”
Strickland showed flashes of former UNC guard greats on several fast-break possessions for the Tar Heels. The sophomore took the ball aggressively to the basket on multiple occasions and scored twice off finger rolls while a few Longhorns were still at halfcourt.
He finished with a team-high 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Strickland added three of UNC’s 13 assists on the night and none of the 12 turnovers.
“Dexter, with the toughness and aggressiveness that he has, is really helpful,” Williams said. “The more he gets to channel that and do it intelligently he’s going to be better.”
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