After suffering its worst home loss in 17 years to Louisville earlier this season, the No. 9 North Carolina men’s basketball avenged itself with a 79-69 win over the No. 15 Cardinals on Saturday.
Louisville struck first blood, but the game played out fairly evenly in the opening minutes.
That all started to change around the 14-minute mark, with the Cardinals ahead 15-12. For the next 2:44 there after, UNC held the Cardinals scoreless while taking control of a lead it would only build on until the break.
By halftime, the Tar Heels had built a 16-point lead — at one point leading Louisville by as much as 19 points. UNC held Louisville to 35.5 percent shooting from the field for the half, while boasting 48.6 field goal percentage.
After the break, the Cardinals started chipping away at the deficit for a brief time. With just under 11 minutes left in the contest, the home team knocked down the lead to single digits before the Tar Heels lengthened the margin back out to 17 points.
The rest of the way, efforts to pull the game close were unsuccessful. UNC took home the victory, 79-69. Among other things, the 49-32 rebounding margin was one reason the Tar Heels were victorious.
Who stood out?
The Tar Heels' leading scorers at the half (12 points each) were also among the top scorers all day, both with double-doubles.
After having relatively quiet performances in recent weeks, Luke Maye led the Tar Heels in scoring on Saturday. Maye scored 20 points and brought down 11 of UNC's 49 rebounds.
Cameron Johnson also had a solid day on the offensive end. The 6-foot-8 graduate transfer scored 19 points in the game, shooting 5-9 (3-6 from three) on the day. Johnson also added 10 rebounds.
When was it decided?
Midway through the second half, the Tar Heels’ lead was slipping. After a good start to the last period, the Cardinals were within nine points. UNC was in jeopardy of letting this slip out of reach and losing to Louisville for the second time this season.
A layup from Coby White, followed by a 3-pointer from Kenny Williams and a Luke Maye free throw lengthened the game out once again. That’s when it became clear, more than any other moment, that the Tar Heels’ solid first half wouldn’t go to waste in the second.
Why does it matter?
UNC was embarrassed at home by the Cardinals in January and that cast doubt into what the team might be capable of this season.
But since that historic loss, the Tar Heels have won five straight, including now avenging that bad loss. With Virginia and Duke on the horizon, UNC has been playing well lately and continues to do so after another top-25 win in the heart of ACC play.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will welcome in N.C. State — a team that lost to Virginia Tech after scoring 24-points, the lowest scoring performance from a ranked team in the shot clock era — on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 8 p.m. in the Smith Center.
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