The first major upset of the 2013-14 college basketball season goes to Belmont.
J.J. Mann hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 13.1 seconds remaining, and J.P. Tokoto missed on North Carolina's ensuing possession, as the Bruins defeated No. 12 North Carolina, 83-80, at the Dean E. Smith Center on Sunday afternoon.
Mann, taking over as the Bruins' go-to scorer after the graduation of Ian Clarke, scored a game-high 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Forward Drew Windler added 16 points, including four three-pointers in a contest where 15 of Belmont's 24 made field goals came from beyond the arc.
The prowess in that area was one of just a select few advantages for the Bruins, who were statistically outworked nearly everywhere else on the stat sheet. North Carolina dominated the rebound margin (44-29, including 21 offensive boards), turned the ball over fewer times and spent much of its game at the free-throw line.
The victory is Belmont's first over a ranked opponent since defeating No. 23 Missouri on Dec. 30, 2003. Sunday's contest was played as part of the campus round of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament, which commences next weekend in Connecticut.
Coming off a three-game stretch to start the season where they struggled mightily at times to get things going, the Bruins jumped out to a red-hot start before a shocked Chapel Hill crowd. They held a close lead on the Tar Heels for almost the entire first half, with the game never being separated by more than four points until Windler's three-pointer gave Belmont a 41-34 advantage going into the break.
Victim of a red-hot shooting streak from the underdogs, North Carolina came roaring back in the second half to seemingly right the ship. Though they were down as many as 11 points when Jeff Laidig put Belmont ahead 55-44 with 15:11 remaining in the contest, that three-pointer sparked a run from the Tar Heels.
Belmont made just one field goal over the next eight-plus minutes, as North Carolina went on a 21-5 run to take a 65-60 lead. James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige spearheaded the comeback effort, with Paige knocking down shots in the lane and McAdoo dominating the undersized Bears on the inside.
Belmont struggled mightily with the Tar Heels' size, drawing 31 personal fouls and sending their opponents to the charity stripe 48 times compared to its 22.
McAdoo finished the game with a career-high 27 points and 13 rebounds, including a 11-of-19 performance from the free-throw line. Paige had 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting and a team-high five assists. The talented sophomore guard's final assist came on a pass to Bryce Johnson for a dunk, which extended the Tar Heels' lead to 75-67 with 3:16 left on the clock.
With North Carolina pressing hard against the Belmont shooters and forcing a ton of contested shots, it looked as if Roy Williams' squad would escape.
But Mann quickly took over, scoring 11 of the Bruins' next 14 points as the mistakes piled up on the other end of the floor. Paige turned the ball over three times in the final 1:40, including a critical cough-up with about 20 seconds remaining that led to a jump ball. With the arrow in Belmont's favor, Reece Chamberlain found an open Mann on the subsequent possession, who knocked down what would turn out to be the game-winning jumper.
After the game Mann talked about the memorable night (via Associated Press):
"It's something you dream about as a kid, and something that you pretend this summer in the gym. You're saying, 'All right, game winner against North Carolina, here you go.' And then it happens. It's just unbelievable."
More than anything, though, the Tar Heels have to feel they gave the game way.
North Carolina made only 22 of its 48 attempts from the stripe, highlighted by a miserable 4-of-16 effort from Tokoto. The 6'5" sophomore, who finished the game with eight points and nine rebounds, couldn't find his stroke from anywhere, making it all the more curious that he attempted the Tar Heels' last shot.
The loss comes as a shock to the Tar Heels, but they had been in far from fine form as they attempt to tread water without leading scorer P.J. Hairston and guard Leslie McDonald. They needed a stellar second half to escape with a 62-54 victory over lowly Holy Cross on Friday and have struggled to find a consistent offensive rhythm.
While this isn't a crushing blow to the team's long-term goals, it certainly won't help create comfort in Chapel Hill. North Carolina came into this season with many questioning its roster composition just one year after only making it to the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Little about Sunday's loss will quell that trepidation.
After the game Belmont coach Rick Byrd talked about the monumental win (via AP): "There aren't great victories unless you beat great programs. It's a big moment right now for us."
Belmont will look to make it three straight victories on Wednesday when it hosts Lipscomb. The Tar Heels will have just under a week to collect themselves before taking on Richmond as the tournament round of the Hall of Fame Classic begins.
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