KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After trailing by two at the half, the North Carolina men’s basketball team fell to Auburn, 97-80, after the Tigers had a lights-out second-half showing in 3-point shooting.
With the win, the Tigers have made only their second Elite Eight in program history, while the Tar Heels finish one victory shy of their 14th 30-win season.
With a spot in the Elite Eight on the line, things were tight from the start.
After UNC led 5-2 early, neither team could separate itself from the other for much of the first half. Both the Tar Heels and Tigers ran the floor at break-neck speed, scoring 14 combined points before even two minutes of gametime had passed.
Even still, head coach Roy Williams motioned for his team to run the floor faster on multiple occasions, looking for a chance to take command over the game. Despite times when both teams played well and went on scoring runs, UNC and Auburn were all tied at 26-26 with seven minutes left the half.
A big 3-pointer by Kenny Williams put the Tar Heels up by three with 6:37 left before the break before the Tigers brought things close again. Neither team led by more than five points at any point in the half.
At the break, Auburn led in field goal percentage, points off turnover, offensive rebounds, second chance points, bench points and points in the paint. Spacing the floor well with efficient passing helped Auburn do that.
Even more than that, the Tigers kept the program with the best rebounding margin in the country from finding an advantage on the boards, as the teams were tied 21-21 in rebounds through the first 20 minutes.
After the break, Auburn took over by finally getting an offensive rhythm from behind the arc after making wide-open opportunities. The Tigers opened the second half with two straight 3-pointers, taking a double-digit lead before UNC could even blink.
The hot shooting was part of a 6-for-8 Auburn start to the second half.
The Tar Heels scored their first basket of the second half with 17:46 left to play, and struggled mightily to find open opportunities compared to their opponent.
Auburn briefly cooled off from deep before lengthening out to a 19-point lead with just over nine minutes left. Even as UNC attempted to climb back into it the rest of the way, that lead was too much for the Tar Heels to overcome.
Who stood out?
Auburn’s Chuma Okeke paced his team to the win. Before exiting with an injury, the junior forward scored game-highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds. Danjel Purifoy also contributed heavily, making 4-of-5 second-half 3-pointers.
For UNC, White led the offensive pace and scored a tie for a team-high 15 points. His veteran teammates Maye, Johnson and Williams, scored 13, 15 and 10 points each, respectively.
When was it decided?
After a close first half, the second half left a spot in the Elite Eight up for grabs. The Tigers took hold of that berth by the three ball, going 12-18 from behind the arc to beat UNC.
Why does it matter?
With a loss, the Tar Heels’ season ends in Kansas City at the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels exit the tournament after giving up
When do they play next?
UNC will be back in action again next October, potentially after losing as many as five players from this year’s roster.
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