CHAPEL HILL— Akeem Richmond shook off the early nerves and nearly helped East Carolina complete a big comeback at North Carolina.
The 6-foot guard scored all of his season-high 17 points in the second half, making five 3-pointers in Saturday’s 93-87 loss to the No. 21 Tar Heels. That included a pair of 3s in the final minute that helped the Pirates get as close as four points after trailing by 18 with about 71/2 minutes left.
“I’ve just got to give credit to my teammates,” Richmond said. “I just relaxed, took my time and knocked down my shots.”
Richmond came in averaging about eight points per game off the bench. He missed his only two shots in six first-half minutes before turning it on after halftime.
With Richmond rolling, the Pirates inched closer and closer in a game that was once slipping away.
“We had a lot of energy as a team,” Richmond said. “We were just nervous when we first got out there. The butterflies were out when we got out there for the second half.”
For North Carolina, James Michael McAdoo scored 19 points to lead five players in double figures.
P.J. Hairston added 18 for the Tar Heels (8-2), but the Pirates — coached by former UNC guard Jeff Lebo — outplayed the Tar Heels through much of the second half and made it a tough run to the finish.
East Carolina (6-2), an instate program making its first trip to Chapel Hill, outscored the Tar Heels 61-51 after halftime.
Lebo played for Dean Smith and then-assistant Roy Williams at UNC from 1985-89, and even played in the first game in the Smith Center as a freshman in January 1986.
He had coached against his alma mater once before, losing 85-59 here while at Tennessee Tech during the 1999-2000 season. The Pirates made this one much closer after a slow start with a tenacious performance.
After trailing 42-26 at the break, East Carolina played more aggressively and got into the double-bonus at the foul line by midway through the second half.
The Pirates kept trading baskets with the Tar Heels down the stretch and inching closer before Richmond knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute, the second bringing East Carolina within 89-85 with 26.6 seconds left.
Dexter Strickland answered with a pair of free throws to push the lead back to six. Then, after East Carolina’s Marshall Guilmette’s layup, Leslie McDonald had a slam with 10.5 seconds left that ultimately sealed the victory.
Still, there was plenty for Williams to feel frustrated about in this one — and some of that showed midway through the second half.
Less than a minute after the Pirates had pulled to within 47-40 with 14:26 left, Williams — who typically hoards his timeouts — burned one and spent the entire stoppage screaming at his flat team from one knee.
His team eventually responded with a burst, running off a 7-0 run to rebuild some cushion and later take a 71-53 lead on Reggie Bullock’s layup with 7:16 left. But the Pirates didn’t go away.
East Carolina shot 53 percent in the second half, including 6-for-13 from 3-point range.
There was a moment of silence before the game due to Friday’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.