The AP No. 24 North Carolina Tar Heels rode a virtuoso performance by sophomore guard Marcus Paige to a 93-84 upset over the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals on Sunday.
Paige put up 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting to push his squad out in front after the game was knotted at 44 apiece at halftime. That keyed the Tar Heels to a landmark triumph in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament final.
This loss snapped Louisville's 21-game winning streak and held head coach Rick Pitino winless against North Carolina in five games, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Louisville: 21-game win streak snapped (1st loss since Feb. 9 vs Notre Dame in 5 OT). Rick Pitino: falls to 0-5 career vs North Carolina— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 24, 2013
Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com documented one of the keys to the game. In the midst of Paige's takeover, Cardinals star sophomore Montrezl Harrell was also in foul trouble and picked up his fifth foul with 7:29 left:
Montrezl Harrell fouls out, Louisville down 12 to UNC with 7:29 left. This is why you've got to love college hoops. Never, ever know.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) November 24, 2013
Harrell had three blocked shots and eight rebounds but couldn't establish himself offensively, as Louisville relied on senior guard Russ Smith to shoulder the load.
Smith had a game-high 36 points, which also marked a new best of his career, but Pitino emphasized afterward that he had to play better on the defensive end:
Pitino: "Russ Smith can score. He's got to pick up his defense and guard people the way Peyton Siva guarded. Chris Jones, too."— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) November 24, 2013
Tim Sullivan of the Courier-Journal pointed out that Smith was far more effective as a scorer in the opening half, relying too much on outside shooting in the final 20 minutes as the Cardinals let the game slip away:
Russ Smith was 6-10 in first half, 5-14 in second half. Feels like way too much reliance on perimeter game for #Louisville.— Tim Sullivan (@TimSullivan714) November 24, 2013
Given the traditionally sound defense that Pitino coaches, this was a shocking display. He felt that his No. 3-ranked team was particularly weak at three positions in particular, including in the frontcourt:
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he learned where team is weak: defense at the 3,4,5. Need more assists too to get ball inside.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) November 24, 2013
That wasn't helped by Harrell's foul trouble, which really reared its head in the second half. But it did allow Paige to get to the free-throw line for 11 attempts, and he converted on all of them.
Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks also had a great all-around game for coach Roy Williams off the bench. The 6'9", 290-pound freshman drained five of his six shot attempts in posting a stellar line of 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
InsideCarolina.com posted video of sensational outlet passing on display from Meeks that helped North Carolina get some easy buckets:
Video: Kennedy Meeks's outlet passing clinic - http://t.co/IfGPAThvKx— InsideCarolina (@InsideCarolina) November 24, 2013
That accentuates something else evident in Louisville's play—an uncharacteristic lack of hustle, as noted by CBSSports.com's Jon Rothstein:
Don't think I can remember a game where a Rick Pitino coached team got beat to so many 50-50 balls. UNC owns every inch today.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 24, 2013
It's still very early in the college basketball season, but this poor defensive effort from Louisville suggests it is not quite in form to adequately defend its national title.
Meanwhile, this gives the Tar Heels some confidence moving forward.
After dropping a Nov. 17 game 83-80 against Belmont, back-to-back wins over Richmond and Louisville should see North Carolina rise a considerable amount in the next edition of college basketball rankings.