CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Despite giving up more points in a half than any time in the Roy Williams era (61 in the second half) -- and watching East Carolina cut an 18-point deficit to as little as four in the final minute -- No. 21 North Carolina held on to prevail 93-87 at the Smith Center on Saturday.
It marked ECU coach Jeff Lebo’s second return to his old college arena as a head coach (his Tennessee Tech team lost here 85-59, during the 1999-2000 season), and the Pirates’ first game in Chapel Hill.
Turning point: UNC led 42-26 at halftime, but ECU opened the second half with a 14-5 run to cut the lead to 47-40. Tar Heels sophomore P.J. Hairston countered with a timely 3-pointer, and Williams called a timeout to rip into his team about defense.
Still ahead 60-50 with about 10 minutes left, UNC sophomore James Michael McAdoo jump-started a 9-2 pullaway with a fist-pump-inducing alley oop (and 3-point play). ECU continued to stick around, cutting the lead back to eight points with about three minutes to go, and to four points when Akeem Richmond bookended two UNC free throws with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute. But UNC held on, despite being outscored by the Pirates by 10 points in the second half.
Key players: McAdoo led UNC with 19 points, and Hairston added 18. Richmond had 17 for ECU.
Key stat: UNC pulled down only 10 offensive rebounds -- and none came from a post player.
Etc.: UNC freshman Brice Johnson made his second start of the season at center. … How athletic is Tar Heels freshman J.P. Tokoto? After throwing the ball away in the backcourt with just under 8 minutes left in the first half, he immediately stopped a 3-on-1 fast break after the turnover by blocking 6-foot-8 ECU forward Maurice Kemp at the rim.
What’s next: UNC plays at Texas on Wednesday. … ECU faces Gardner-Webb on Tuesday.