Survive and advance is the name of the game in March, and the North Carolina Tar Heels took that motto to heart Sunday evening when they barely scraped past the eighth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks 72-65 to secure a trip to the Sweet 16 in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, UNC's win kept a familiar trend alive:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Arkansas - Last 3 NCAA Tournament Losses 2017 Round of 32- UNC 2015 Round of 32- UNC 2008 Round of 32- UNC3/20/2017, 12:24:08 AM
The South Region's No. 1 seed appeared on pace for a blowout win when it led by 17 points with 5:30 remaining in the first half, but things changed in a hurry at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.
Although the Razorbacks were in shambles early as the Tar Heels pounded the offensive glass and forced turnovers left and right, they snapped out of their malaise, closed the opening frame on a 16-6 run and entered halftime down five points.
Arkansas didn't take long to capitalize on that surge, and the result was a second half dictated by the Razorbacks' preferred frenetic pace:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
That behind-the-back pass 👌 #MarchMadness https://t.co/t857prfan03/19/2017, 11:30:38 PM
Daryl Macon—who finished with a team-high 19 points—thrived in that setting, which enabled him to get out in the open floor and pick apart the Tar Heels, as NCAA March Madness documented on Twitter:
NCAA March Madness @marchmadness
Macon it rain 3s! #MarchMadness https://t.co/r1gD9g0kil3/19/2017, 11:48:29 PM
And while the Tar Heels offense was in shambles for almost the entire second half, salvation came in the form of solid late defense against Arkansas' tired legs and a 12-0 run that enabled them to take the lead for good:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
OH. MY. 😱 #MarchMadness https://t.co/eTDicI7LVj3/20/2017, 12:14:20 AM
Of course, it didn't help that Arkansas' offense flamed out at the worst possible time, according to USA Today's Nicole Auerbach:
Nicole Auerbach @NicoleAuerbach
In final few minutes, Arkansas had a series of terrible offensive possessions AND just missed two free throws. Not a winning formula.3/20/2017, 12:15:00 AM
The Tar Heels' performance over the final 3:30 of regulation was inspiring, considering how flat they were coming out of halftime, but Roy Williams' side will need to be far sharper in the Sweet 16 against the Butler Bulldogs on Friday.
UNC shot 38.1 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three to go with 17 turnovers. In addition, solid guard play proved elusive.
Specifically, Joel Berry II scored 10 points on 2-of-13 shooting, while Justin Jackson managed 15 points (5-of-14 shooting) and committed four turnovers.
The saving grace, though, was the play of Kennedy Meeks—who posted 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks to help steady the ship on a night defined by inefficiency.
Needless to say, the Tar heels will have to play a much more focused brand of ball against a Bulldogs team that dispatched Winthrop and Middle Tennessee behind stellar shooting performances.
But now that they have new life and a few days to prepare, the Tar Heels should be able to make Sunday's woes a thing of the past and use them as motivation as the title chase heats up.
After the win, Isaiah Hicks discussed how the Tar Heels were able to hunker down over the game's final few minutes and pull out a win, as the ACC Digital Network documented on Twitter:
ACC Digital Network @theACCDN
Hicks on the #Heels raising their intensity with 12-0 run to end the game: https://t.co/KKN8Ji7VkN3/20/2017, 12:47:04 AM
Speaking to reporters, Williams "used the words 'fortunate' and 'lucky' repeatedly" to describe his team's performance, according to the New York Post's Zach Braziller
"I told Mike [Anderson] we were incredibly fortunate," Williams said, per 5 News' Andrew Scaglione. "We haven't won like this all year."
Speaking of Anderson, the Razorbacks head coach said he thought his team did "all the right things" in the heartbreaker, as March Madness TV documented on Twitter:
March Madness TV @MarchMadnessTV
"I don't think we lost this game, I think we just ran out of time." - Coach Anderson with @LewisJohnsonMG after falling short of #Sweet16 https://t.co/4mnqefB3Wc3/20/2017, 12:37:10 AM
"Our guys showed incredible heart tonight," Anderson added, according to the team's official Twitter account.