Vols’ upset bid of No. 7 North Carolina falls short, 73-71

Tennessee basketball put No. 7 North Carolina on upset alert Sunday night, but couldn’t finish off the upset.

CHAPEL HILL, NC - DECEMBER 11, 2016 - Guard Jordan Bowden #23 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Tennessee Volunteers at Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC. Photo By Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams entered Sunday’s game with a record of 102-6 against non-conference opponents at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

In his 1,003rd career game, that number ticked up to 103. But it wasn’t easy, as his No. 7 ranked Tar Heels (10-1) had to fight until the final buzzer to defeat Tennessee (4-4), 73-71.

In his 29 years and thousand-plus games, “this is the luckiest I’ve ever been,” the hall of fame coach said.

The unranked Volunteers led North Carolina for a 30 minute stretch and shot an efficient 52 percent from the field. Senior Robert Hubbs III had one of the most impressive games of his career, leading Tennessee in scoring with 21 points (9-for-11 from the field). But it all wasn’t enough, as Tennessee failed to score on its final possession with 8.9 seconds left.

“We had exactly what we wanted,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said after the loss. “We had four different outlets there and we took probably the worst shot we could take.”

While the Vols botched their final play, Barnes attributed the loss to overall bad defensive play and poor rebounding. Tennessee led North Carolina in defensive rebounds (25-19), but was devastated by the Tar Heels’ second chances, as the men in white and baby blue grabbed 22 offensive boards and converted them into 25 second chance points.

“If we’re going to win the game, we have to do it by rebounding the ball,” Barnes told his team at halftime. “And we didn’t do it. Carolina played volleyball with it.”

With North Carolina’s star bigs Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks limited by foul trouble, freshman Tony Bradley took over for the Tar Heels.

“We had one thing on our scouting report about Bradley,” Barnes said. “What he does is go get the ball.”

The freshman dominated the paint, posting a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and made the game-saving block and rebound in the final seconds.

“Being close is not good enough,” Barnes said. “I don’t want them to feel good about being close in games, we need to figure out a way to get over the hump.”

The Vols’ loss to Carolina was its third against a ranked opponent so far this season. Barnes’ tone was similar Sunday night after another tough effort.

“We’ve lost three games now to three teams that were in the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four,” Barnes said. “And we’re in this game to win.”

A layup from junior Justin Jackson with two minutes remaining gave the Tar Heels their first lead since there were over 14 minutes remaining in the first half. North Carolina never relinquished it again.

“We stunk it up and we made a couple plays at the end,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said of the win.

After the trip to North Carolina, potentially one of the toughest opponents and atmospheres they will face all season, the Volunteers return to action in Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday night to host Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. ET.

Edited by Nathan Odom 

Featured image by Photo by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics