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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's basketball falls to Villanova, 83-81, in first meeting since 2016 national championship

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UNC junior forward Harrison Ingram (55) shoots the ball in the Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023 game against Lehigh in the Dean E. Smith Center. UNC won with a score of 90-68.

Despite runs in both halves that pushed its lead to nine, the No. 14 North Carolina men’s basketball team (4-1, 0-0 ACC) could not overcome a 34-point performance by Eric Dixon in a 83-81 overtime loss to Villanova (5-1, 0-0 Big East) in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals on Thursday in the Bahamas.

In a highly competitive game, an 89 percent mark from the free-throw line in addition to Dixon’s performance was a catalyst for the Wildcats.

Thursday marked the first meeting between the Tar Heels and Wildcats since the 2016 national championship. Villanova won that game, 77-74, thanks to a buzzer-beating three from Kris Jenkins.

After a back-and-forth 19 minutes and change, senior guard RJ Davis drilled a contested, leaning 3-pointer from the corner just before time expired in the first half to give North Carolina a 34-32 lead at the break. 

Dixon led all scorers with 20 on 6-9 shooting in the first half. Perfect from distance and the free throw line, he was the only Wildcat to score over four points. Following a career-high four threes in Wednesday’s game against Northern Iowa, junior forward Harrison Ingram picked up right where he left off, pacing the Tar Heels with 13 points. UNC shot 42 percent from three over the first 20 minutes.

Wildcats’ leading scorer Justin Moore did not score in the first half, but recorded Villanova’s first four points in the second. After Villanova briefly retook the lead, Ingram banged home a catch-and-shoot three to give the Tar Heels a 43-42 edge at the under-16 timeout.

An and-one layup in transition from graduate guard Cormac Ryan, assisted by Ingram, pushed the UNC lead to six with just over 13 minutes to go. Davis exploded to the tin and layed up and in a few minutes later, forcing the Wildcats to call a timeout down nine with 10:44 to play. 

Villanova came out of the timeout inspired and went on a 11-2 run to tie the game at 57 at the under-8 break. The Wildcats took the lead through a Dixon bucket that put him over 30 for the game, but Ryan and Ingram responded with clutch buckets of their own to see the Tar Heels ahead 63-61.

With foul trouble lurking for UNC all game long, it finally hurt the Tar Heels with 3:44 to play when Ingram fouled out, and five points in a row from Moore gave the Wildcats a 66-63 edge.

Down three with under a minute to play, head coach Hubert Davis called a timeout. The play he drew up worked to perfection. 

First-year guard Elliot Cadeau drove baseline before kicking to Ryan in the opposite corner. Ryan squared his feet and launched a contested three that rippled the nylon. Dixon and Davis both missed threes down the stretch, and the game went to overtime tied at 68.

Neither team led by more than one in overtime before Moore converted an old-fashioned 3-point play with just over two minutes to go. Ryan committed a crucial turnover on the next possession with a bad pass out of bounds intended for sophomore guard Seth Trimble.

A two-hand slam with just over a minute to play from graduate center Armando Bacot cut the Wildcat lead to one.

A pair of layups, one made by Villanova guard Mark Armstrong, and the next missed by Davis, saw the Wildcats across the finish line. Villanova was able to secure the victory from the charity stripe after Armstrong’s key bucket.

The Tar Heels wrap up their stay in the Bahamas tomorrow in the third-place game at 1 p.m., playing the loser of No. 20 Arkansas and Memphis.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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