As a child growing up in Radford, Va., Mike Young dreamed of playing for Dean Smith and the North Carolina men’s basketball team.
That particular dream didn't come true, but on Wednesday night, Young’s Wofford Terriers (8-4) did the unthinkable.
Wofford marched into the Smith Center and defeated the Tar Heels, 79-75, stunning UNC (10-2) just five days before Christmas and leaving the team searching for answers. The win was the first by Wofford against an AP Top 25 team in 23 tries, and it snapped a 23-game home winning streak for the Tar Heels.
"To bring a team in here and not only compete and fight and do some really good things, but win,” Young said with a glowing smile. “That’s a mouthful. A mountaintop experience. I’m awfully proud of our boys.”
Led by junior sharpshooter Fletcher Magee, the second-leading scorer in the country at 24.1 points per game, Wofford immediately stormed out to an 11-5 lead with 16:33 left in the first half.
At that moment, graduate transfer Cameron Johnson entered the game for the Tar Heels for the first time this season, and it looked like the tide was shifting. UNC went on a 17-4 first half run with Johnson in the game and led 33-26 with 3:41 left in the opening frame.
The Terriers responded with an 8-0 run to end the half and Magee scored four of those points. However, it was a relatively quiet first half for the gunner, who only scored 11 points and missed all three of his shots from deep.
The second half began with the Tar Heels trailing 34-33. The Smith Center was roaring as the fans desperately implored their team to seize control. However, Magee was not about to let his team fall.
Just 30 seconds into the half, Magee hit his first three-pointer of the game. Thirty-one seconds later, junior forward Cameron Jackson hit a jumper to make it a 39-33 game. The two juniors combined for 27 of Wofford’s 45 second-half points.
With 13:28 remaining in the game, Wofford's lead had swelled to 14, and Magee had eight more points.
“He really shoots the ball really well," UNC junior Luke Maye said of Magee. “Good elevation on his jumper. Takes a lot of contested shots and makes a lot of contested shots.”
Second-half foul trouble by the Terriers kept the Tar Heels in the game. The Terriers committed 15 fouls after halftime, leading to 23 free throw attempts from UNC. With 1:22 left in the contest, Maye hit two free throws and the lead was down to one.
But the Terriers quickly broke the Tar Heel pressure defense and Magee scored a layup just six seconds later to make it 75-72.
With 32 seconds remaining, Maye rattled out a three-pointer which would have tied the game and maybe changed the ending of the Tar Heels' nightmare.
The buzzer sounded, and the Terriers mobbed each other at half court. They'd given the Tar Heels just their 16th loss against a non-conference opponent in the Smith Center in 214 games and delivered their program's biggest win in its history.
“I think it’s huge, especially if we’re not playing very well, or we’re on the road somewhere or conference play and things are getting tough," Magee said. “To rely on playing in front of 20,000 people coming down the stretch here at North Carolina, getting the win, I really think that’s going to be huge for us going down when things are starting to get tough for us later in the year."
UNC head coach Roy Williams showed his disappointment with his team’s effort after the game.
“I’m just so discouraged right now, guys," he said. “Thankfully we've got someone that looks into the rules because I told them I wanted to come back and practice at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning.”
For Wofford, the best present under the Christmas tree was the gift of beating the reigning national champions. UNC, on the other hand, is left to pick up the pieces and restart the season with ACC play looming just nine days away.