North Carolina's Joel Berry II (2) celebrates after making a 3-point basket against Arkansas during the first half of Sunday’s NCAA Tournament second-round game in Greenville, S.C. The Tar Heels rallied with 12 straight points to finish their 72-65 win and will face Butler in the South Regional semifinals Friday in Memphis, Tenn.
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
It was the definition of survive and advance as No. 1 seed North Carolina trailed No. 8 seed Arkansas by five points with just under four minutes to play in Sunday’s NCAA Tournament South Regional second-round game in Greenville, South Carolina.
Trailing 65-60, the Tar Heels would lock in and dig deep, not leting Arkansas score again and using a 12-0 run to win the game.
“It was gut-check time,” UNC junior Theo Pinson said in the locker room after the game.
In a chaotic and, at times, sloppy game where everything seemed to go the Razorbacks’ way, UNC heeded the advice of head coach Roy Williams and got stops. The stops led to points — free throws, put-backs and dunks — and an eventual win.
“I was just saying, ‘It can’t end like this,’” senior Isaiah Hicks said. “I kept thinking, ‘This can’t be it. We have to do whatever we can to win this one.’”
Despite UNC’s 17-point lead in the first half, the Razorbacks clawed back and closed the gap to 38-33 at halftime. Arkansas finally took the lead with just under eight minutes left in the second half.
“I just told my teammates to believe, and believe that we were going to win the game,” junior point guard Joel Berry II said. “That’s why I got it (‘Believe’) tattooed on the inside of my arm, that’s what you gotta do is believe. Coach said the same thing. That’s what we did the last four minutes.”
Senior Kennedy Meeks led UNC with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Two of his points came with 49 seconds left on a huge tip-in basket off Berry’s miss that gave UNC a two-point cushion. He also snagged a key defensive rebound off a missed Arkansas free throw in last minute.
Justin Jackson added 15 points, hit three threes, grabbed eight rebounds, dished five assists, and had five steals.
The Tar Heels will take on No. 4 seed Butler at 7:09 p.m. Friday in the South Region semifinals in FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.
TWO milestones FOR TAR HEELS
In the first half, Jackson hit his first 3-pointer of the night and made Carolina basketball history. His 96th trey of the season helped him pass Shammond Williams as the UNC single-season 3-point leader.
Jackson would hit two more in the game to move the mark to 98.
Meeks’ last rebound of the game with 25 seconds to play was the 1,000th of his career. He is the ninth Tar Heel to have 1,000 rebounds. He joins Tyler Hansbrough (1,219), Sam Perkins (1,167), George Lynch (1,097), Billy Cunningham (1,062), Brice Johnson (1,035), Antawn Jamison (1,027), Mitch Kupchak (1,006) and Brad Daugherty (1,003) with 1,000 career rebounds.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The South Region is set with the top four seeds advancing. No. 1 UNC will take on No. 4 Butler on Friday evening before No. 2 Kentucky will face No. 4 UCLA shortly after. The Regional Championship will be Sunday evening.
The Butler Bulldogs of the Big East Conference sit at 25-8 with wins over No. 13 seed Winthrop and No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee to advance to the Sweet 16. Among the teams the Bulldogs have beaten this season are NCAA Tournament entries Arizona, Northwestern, Cincinnati, Villanova (twice), Xavier (twice) and Marquette.
PRO DAY SET FOR TUESDAY
Chapel Hill will be the the focus of the NFL world on Tuesday morning as dozens of head coaches, scouts and executives will descend to UNC’s practice field for the Tar Heels’ annual Pro Day.
The main attraction is quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who is expected to be a high first-round pick in the NFL draft next month. Many other potential draft picks will also work out.
The prospects will run the 40-yard dash, shuttle, and L run as well as do the bench press and run through multiple position drills. Trubisky will throw to receivers and running backs.
In total 14 former Tar Heel players will participate: DE Mikey Bart, C Lucas Crowley, RB Khris Francis, S Dominquie Green, WR Mack Hollins, WR Bug Howard, CB Des Lawrence, TB T.J. Logan, OG Caleb Peterson, WR Ryan Switzer, PK Nick Weiler, RB Elijah Hood, QB Mitch Trubisky and DT Nazair Jones.
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.