• 64°

UNC wins with 18 points, eight blocks from Brice Johnson

By Aaron Beard

AP Basketball Writer

RALEIGH (AP) — When North Carolina is playing its best, it’s a team that can score, defend and rebound at a rate worthy of its No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.

Fortunately for the Tar Heels, that group showed up at the second half to avoid one of those never-has-happened moments that live on in March lore.

Brice Johnson scored 18 points and North Carolina needed an overwhelming second-half start to put away 16th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast 83-67 in Thursday’s first round after leading by just one at half.

“We definitely come out frustrated,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to come with a burning fire in our bellies and say, ‘Hey we can play a lot better than what we did.’”

The problem for UNC was the team that started the game looked nothing like the group that cut down the nets at last week’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Instead, the Tar Heels (29-6) revisited tendencies that have hurt them over the better part of the last two seasons — namely, iffy defense and lacking an intense edge.

The Eagles (21-14) were more than happy to take advantage before the East Region’s top seed dominated the opening 10 minutes of the second half, running off a 20-3 burst by controlling the boards and locking down defensively to build a 20-point lead.

That helped the Tar Heels avoid the unwanted history of being the first No. 1 to lose to a 16-seed in tournament history.

“We weren’t nervous at halftime, we were just upset that we played a little bit tight in the first half,” senior Marcus Paige said. “We were the ones being reactive instead of proactive, and you can’t do that if you want to beat aggressive teams. It took us a while to get going, but once we did, we were fine.”

Florida Gulf Coast already owned a bit of underdog history with its “Dunk City” bunch the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16 in 2013.

By the end, though, it looked like most other 1-vs-16 matchups.

“We see what we need to do now playing with a No. 1 seed and see what it takes,” Marc-Eddy Norelia said.

Christian Terrell led Florida Gulf Coast with 15 points. The team shot 60 percent in the first half but went 2 for 15 to open the second half as the Tar Heels took control.

“The start of the second half obviously dictated the result,” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said.

TIP-INS

UNC: Five players scored in double figures. … Johnson blocked eight shots to set a program record for an NCAA game, breaking a record of six held by three players. … Coach Roy Williams earned his 65th career NCAA win, snapping a tie with late mentor Dean Smith for second on the all-time list to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. … FGCU’s 60 percent shooting in the first half was the best in a half against UNC all year and best for an NCAA game since the second half of a 1996 second-round loss to Texas Tech.

HICKS’ SPARK

Isaiah Hicks, the ACC’s sixth man of the year, finished with 12 points as starter Kennedy Meeks struggled.

“It doesn’t matter what time I get in,” Hicks said, “it just matters how helpful I am to the team when I get out there.”

HOME COMFORT

The Tar Heels improved to 32-1 in NCAA games in their home state, with 28 straight wins since losing in Raleigh in 1979.

UP NEXT

UNC advances to Saturday’s second round to face the Providence-Southern California winner.

Comments

Crime

Man faces kidnapping, assault charges after woman escapes at Webb Road Flea Market

Local

Natoli promoted to assistant county manager, will retain human resources director title

Education

Attendance restriction lifted for RSS graduation ceremonies

Business

Rowan Chamber of Commerce will host in-person Power in Partnership on Thursday

Business

Rowan EDC will undergo name change, alter board requirements with updates to bylaws

Nation/World

Israel strikes Gaza tunnels as truce efforts remain elusive

Nation/World

Supreme Court to take up major abortion rights challenge

Nation/World

Biden boosting world vaccine sharing commitment to 80M doses

Crime

Man charged for stowing away on Norfolk Southern train, impeding railroad operations

Local

Group will protest treatment of Georgia woman during 2019 traffic stop

Crime

Man overdoses at Piedmont Correctional Institute

Crime

Sheriff’s Office: Two men escape from jail, found in bushes on Fulton Street

Ask Us

Ask Us: When will North Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue be resurfaced?

Local

Political Notebook: Rowan’s lawmakers pass 140 bills into the opposite chamber before deadline

Local

Police chief to present use of force policy; city manager to present 2021-22 budget

Crime

Blotter: Rockwell man arrested on charges of felony larceny, possession of stolen vehicle

Coronavirus

CDC director says mask turnaround based solely on science

News

Catawba College hosts three in-person commencement ceremonies

Local

With high case loads causing numerous staff departures, Child Protective Services seeks more positions

Education

Livingstone College graduates celebrate ‘crossing the finish line’ during commencement celebration

Coronavirus

Rowan sees 4 new COVID-19 deaths as mask mandate lifted, vaccines administered continue decline

Local

Spencer is latest town updating its development ordinance

Local

Salisbury native Kristy Woodson Harvey makes NY Times bestseller list

Local

Board of Commissioners will convene for third time in May