Eyes trained on a title after last year's runner-up finish, No. 1 North Carolina blew past No. 16 Texas Southern 103-64 in Friday's South Region matchup at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, South Carolina.
Justin Jackson led the way for the Tar Heels with 21 points on a 5-of-8 effort from deep, shooting himself out of a slump from range (7-of-31 over last four games) as North Carolina prepped for the next round by breaking the 100-point mark for the seventh time this year.
SWAC Player of the Year Zach Lofton couldn't match, scoring nine points on 2-of-11 shooting as the Tigers were overwhelmed with the size and physicality of the Tar Heels, shooting 36.7 percent from the floor. Kevin Scott attempted to compensate, scoring 19 on a 6-of-14 effort.
College Basketball @br_CBB
Tarheels take care of business! No. 1 UNC routs No. 16 Texas Southern, 103-64 #MarchMadness https://t.co/ShBFgsmd5T2017-3-17 22:11:37
Isaiah Hicks scored the game's first basket six seconds into regulation and away the Tar Heels went, running out to a 52-27 lead at the half.
In the early going, Texas Southern put up a fight, grabbing the lead twice as Scott (9.7 points per game during the regular season) scored eight of the Tigers' first 10 points.
The Tigers even got on the board in highlight-reel fashion before the wheels came off the ride:
NCAA March Madness @marchmadness
Texas Southern with the oop! #MarchMadness https://t.co/23wPByInzj2017-3-17 20:25:10
Momentum enjoyed by the Tigers was short-lived, as the 10-10 tie quickly spun into a blowout.
But Texas Southern didn't have the depth to keep running full steam ahead. The Tigers lost their third-leading scorer and 2015 SWAC Player of the Year when Derrick Griffin decided to leave the team and focus on his NFL career.
The Tar Heels didn't need any help yet got it anyway as even buzzer shots were falling:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Everything is going the Tar Heels' way 👌 #MarchMadness https://t.co/yaQA1b5n1h2017-3-17 21:05:16
Little changed in the second half, with North Carolina running what amounted to practice—that buzzer-beater above was the result of a timeout with seven seconds left in the half.
North Carolina did have a scary moment when Joel Berry II landed awkwardly after a shot and went down holding his ankle. He went to the back with trainers.
Berry, though, returned before finishing his day 1-of-8 with three points. Insider Carolina offered one angle as to why North Carolina coach Roy Williams would put him back in a game already decided:
For those questioning Roy’s decision to put Berry back in, no doubt the thinking is to let him play on it and regain some confidence.2017-3-17 21:43:03
Otherwise, the size advantage showed as North Carolina drummed up a 54-27 rebounding advantage, with five different Tar Heels tallying at least six boards. Hicks ended up scoring 17 points, flanked by another 13 from Kennedy Meeks.
On the other hand, Texas Southern lost its identity, jacking up low-percentage attempts from deep and finishing 7-of-27 from range with only nine assists. The team deserves credit for battling until the bitter end, but it certainly wasn't the one to make history by being the first to take down a No. 1.
Moving forward, the Tigers will need to keep hunting for the first bracket win in program history, with the emergence of Scott, a junior, a positive point.
After firing a warning shot to the rest of the bracket, the Tar Heels will turn around and dance with eighth-seeded Arkansas, which got the benefit of a controversial flagrant foul earlier Friday in a win against Seton Hall.
North Carolina meets Arkansas for the sixth time in the tournament, the team the program has now played more than any other in the bracket besides Villanova, according to NCAA director of media coordination David Worlock.
As expected, Jackson was the star of the show after the game.
The junior took the broadcast interview slot:
March Madness TV @MarchMadnessTV
"It always feels good." - Justin Jackson on coming up one shy of single game @UNC_Basketball NCAA Tournament record for 3PM #MarchMadness https://t.co/XoE34OiVMU2017-3-17 22:19:20
Jackson took a deep dive into breaking out of his shooting slump to start the tournament, as captured by Brant Wilkerson of the News & Record:
Brant Wilkerson-New @BrantGNR
Justin Jackson gets sassy about his shooting with @marilyn_payne 💁♂️ https://t.co/NjQLYyJ72O2017-3-17 22:58:18
Williams, however, was in typical form, already focusing on Arkansas, according to Kyle Deckelbaum of KATV: "We've got to attack them back. They're aggressive, hard on defense. Mike's done great job. Watched bit of Kent game."
As for Texas Southern head coach Mike Davis, he was quick to point out a loss to a team like North Carolina shouldn't take away from the progress his guys made, according to Carolina Blitz:
Carolina Blitz @VashtiHurt
TSU Coach Mike Davis says loss shouldn't take away from historic season. Says UNC "Just on another level"2017-3-17 22:32:41
Davis, like most present, was quick to praise Jackson as well: "He's probably one of the hardest workers in the country."