Top Story, Men's Basketball

Men’s Basketball Nearly Upsets No. 9 UNC in Nailbiter

Up two points with 34 seconds remaining, Brice Johnson went to the charity stripe with a chance to ice the game for the University of North Carolina with a pair of free throws. The only thing standing in the way? The Boston College student section, which—for the first time all season—came alive for Tuesday night’s marquee matchup.

Screaming and waving maroon and gold signs, Superfans watched as Johnson sank his first free throw. 65-62.

For the second free throw, the student section erupted even louder. Amid the uproar, the Eagles’ prayers were answered as Johnson’s shot rimmed out, halting the Tar Heel lead at only a possession and keeping BC’s chances of a historic upset alive.

“Shooting around in my driveway when I as a kid, that’s the type of thing I was trying to imagine,” Dennis Clifford said of the crowd at Conte Forum, which included Clipper point guard Chris Paul. “That was an awesome environment to play in.”

But a last-second miracle wasn’t in tonight’s books for 20-point underdog BC (7-17, 0-11 Atlantic Coast), which played its best game of the season in a nail-biting 68-65 loss to No. 9 UNC (20-4, 9-2), narrowly missing out on its first conference win of the season.

Eli Carter led the Eagles with 26 points, including five 3-pointers, shouldering the load for an Eagles squad that was severely shorthanded. Already without freshman guard Jerome Robinson (broken wrist), BC lost another key player when A.J. Turner went down with a right ankle injury early in the second half. He was carried off to the locker room, but returned to the bench on crutches to watch the end of the game.

Clifford, a fifth-year senior, played his best game in a BC uniform on Tuesday night. The 7-footer made his presence felt inside, grabbing 13 rebounds to go along with 14 points.

Justin Jackson, who was benched to begin the game, kept UNC close throughout a sloppy first half, finishing with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting. The Eagles carried a 37-31 lead into the intermission, the Tar Heels’ largest halftime deficit of the year.

UNC head coach Roy Williams collapsed during a TV timeout early in the second half and was taken to the locker room. Williams would later emerge to shake BC head coach Jim Christian’s hand after the win. At the postgame press conference, he announced that he had been diagnosed with benign positional vertigo, a condition that causes dizziness with certain sudden head movements.

“For him to come back out and congratulate our kids on their effort I thought speaks volumes as to why he’s a Hall of Fame coach,” Christian said.

The Tar Heels grabbed their first lead of the game with 3:55 remaining off a pair of Theo Pinson free throws. Carter responded with a free throw of his own to tie the game at 57, but a Jackson runner in the lane put UNC back on top. After each team turned the ball over, Carter hit a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner to give the Eagles a 60-59 advantage with just over two minutes to play.

Marcus Paige, who finished with a quiet 11 points, drilled a three from the wing and drew the foul, but couldn’t convert the four-point play, leaving the Tar Heels with a slim 62-60 lead. But after a Garland Owens miss, BC needed a stop with a minute left.

Once again, it was Jackson for UNC.

The 6-foot-8 sophomore gave the Tar Heels a four-point lead with under a minute left, leaving the Eagles with no room for error down the stretch.

Carter drew a foul on the other end with about 40 seconds remaining and drained both free throws to pull the Eagles within just two, forcing BC to foul and pray for a missed free throw to keep the game within one possession. But after Johnson missed his second free throw, an Ervins Meznieks pass ended up back in the hands of Paige, who hit one of two free throws after an intentional foul.

Down four with just over 10 seconds left, Matt Milon came off the bench to drain a much-needed fadeaway three to pull BC within just one. After another pair of free throws from Paige extended the UNC lead to 68-65, BC inbounded the ball with three ticks still on the clock and an opportunity to send the game to overtime.

Carter’s half-court heave was no good. And like that, one of the biggest upsets of this chaotic college basketball season was just an “almost.”

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

 

February 9, 2016
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