COLUMBUS, Ohio — In what was mostly a game of two halves, first-year wing Nassir Little was the lone constant.
No. 1 seed North Carolina survived a first-half scare against No. 16 seed Iona on Friday, overcoming a 38-33 halftime deficit to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Yet if it wasn’t for Little – or, as senior guard Kenny Williams put it, “the Nas that I love to see” – the 88-73 win would likely never have come to pass.
“If he’s aggressive…” Williams trailed off. “That’s it. If he’s aggressive, then he takes us to another level, because he’s a great player. It’s just a matter of him getting it, and I think tonight he got it.”
For Little, “getting it” entailed posting 19 points on an efficient 9-13 shooting from the field, the most points tallied by a first-year UNC player in an NCAA Tournament game since Harrison Barnes lit up Marquette in the Sweet 16 for 20 in 2011.
Eight of those points came in a first half where his Tar Heel teammates shot a combined 9-33 from the field and 3-13 from 3-point range. Little was a key part of keeping North Carolina afloat, until a 25-7 second-half run put UNC over the top.