North Carolina put on an offensive clinic early to build a 25-point lead before holding off an inspired rally that forced overtime, escaping defending national champion Baylor 93-86 on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament’s second round at Fort Worth.
The Bears, the first No. 1 seed to fall in March Madness, were close to pulling of the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history by thrillingly storming back in the game’s final six minutes. The No. 8-seeded Tar Heels, once a bubble team at the start of the month, advanced to the Sweet 16 in the East Region.
Despite coughing up the sizeable lead and playing completely discombobulated in the final minutes of regulation, North Carolina found a way to gut out the upset in overtime. UNC guard RJ Davis made a pivotal three-point play with 1:18 remaining in overtime for a play that gave the Tar Heels a six-point edge and proved to be the difference-maker.
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The hot shooting of Davis (30 points off five three-pointers) propelled UNC early and big man Brady Manek (26 points) began to drill a barrage of three-pointers in the second half to help the Heels build their big cushion. Then Manek was ejected from the game with 10 minutes remaining for a flagrant 2 foul when he swung his elbows at Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan.
Manek’s ejection completely morphed the momentum of the game. The Bears (27-7) weren’t going down without a fight and capitalized on North Carolina being without two of its best players – Manek and Caleb Love (fouled out) – for the final six minutes of the game. Baylor went on a 20-4 run to slice a seemingly insurmountable deficit to single digits in the last five minutes, setting up a thrilling comeback that eventually forced overtime.
Guard James Akinjo tied the game at 80 with 15.8 seconds left off a three-point play. Jeremy Sochan’s banked three-pointer with 31 seconds left sliced the deficit to 80-77. A previous Akinjo three-point play with 1:48 left cut it to 76-73 before UNC All-American big man Armando Bacot converted a pivotal three-point play right after.
UNC led 42-29 at halftime and had built the 25-point lead midway through the second half before Baylor’s late rally. Baylor’s Matthew Mayer, a key holdover from last year’s national title team, played with four fouls in pivotal late stretches, hitting big three pointers and taking momentous charges before fouling out with 2:49 remaining in overtime.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said afterwards. “This is a group that shows toughness, resilience. One of things I wanted them to do was have their own testaments, their own March Madness moments.”
It’s been an impressive NCAA Tournament for the Tar Heels (26-9), who have been getting a wide-array of offensive ammunition from different players. They crushed Marquette in the first round and got 23 points from Love. On the NCAA Tournament bubble at the start of the month, North Carolina’s convincing road win over Duke in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game proved to be the turnaround point for this team to peak heading into the postseason.
The Bears, who lost three three players to the NBA draft from last year’s title team that beat Gonzaga in the title game, had to reload in 2021-22 via the transfer portal. They were the weakest of the four No. 1 seeds after winning the Big 12 regular season title.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism