UNC Basketball: How the Tar Heels came back to beat Louisville


UNC’s minimum win probability on Saturday afternoon against Louisville, per kenpom.com? 6.1%. That mark came with 8:43 left in the second half. Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear had just hit a huge three-pointer to put the Cardinals ahead 63-50. Marcus Paige was not on the floor due to his ankle injury and it looked like the Tar Heels were done.

As the Tar Heels brought the ball down the court on the following possession, the crowd at the Dean E. Smith Center rose to its feet, but not for a good reason. They could sense that UNC was falling off the wagon a bit and knew that the Heels needed to respond to Louisville’s strong start to the second half.

Despite Louisville’s 13 point lead and Carolina’s 6.1% win probability with eight and a half minutes left in the second half, the Tar Heels did end up beating Louisville. Let’s take another look at how the Heels made that run and erased Louisville’s 13 point lead to win the ballgame.

7:34 — Joel Berry II‘s made three, assist by Brice Johnson (63-55 LOU)

You can see the play in the clip above.

This was a big time find by Brice Johnson and a great shot by Joel Berry II. Berry II played just 13 minutes and took three shots against Louisville, but this make was huge to help get the Tar Heels back in the game. Along with two free throws by Kennedy Meeks, Berry II’s three completed a 5-0 run for the Heels in the span of about a minute that helped cut Louisville’s lead to eight.

Berry II is 5 of 21 on the season from three-point land, but he was able to come up big for the Tar Heels and hit that shot.

6:19 — Marcus Paige three-pointer, assisted by J.P. Tokoto (65-58 LOU)

Even watching the game again this morning, I’m not really sure how Tokoto ended up with the ball. The steal was attributed to Nate Britt, and somehow Tokoto came up with the ball and passed it to Marcus Paige, who hit one of his two three-pointers in a big spot. That basket cut Louisville’s lead to seven.

That was a big time play all around from Britt, Tokoto and Paige.

5:41 — Offensive Rebound from J.P. Tokoto leads to Brice Johnson dunk, assisted by Paige (67-60 LOU)

Tokoto gets credit for an offensive rebound here after a missed shot by Nate Britt. It was really just a tip that gave Carolina another possession, which led to a dunk by Brice Johnson, which cut the Card’s lead down to seven again.

In the stat sheet, that just shows up as an offensive rebound, but in reality, it was a lot more — a chance at an extra possession which led to two points for the Tar Heels. Great play by Tokoto.

5:26 — Kennedy Meeks steal and easy score for J.P. Tokoto (67-62 LOU)

This is a tough shot for Tokoto, but he finishes with ease after a nice steal from Kennedy Meeks. This cut Louisville’s lead to five. Yet another big time play from Tokoto.

2:29 — Desmond Hubert stops Montrezl Harrell shot (69-66 LOU)

Desmond Hubert played one minute on Saturday against the Cardinals, but his one minute and one possession was one of the most important defensive stops of the game for the Heels. The Cardinals got the ball inside to Montrezl Harrell and Desmond Hubert played excellent defense on the shot, forcing a miss by Harrell.

Here is a screengrab I got of the play. Hubert plays perfect defense. This is Roy Hibbert-esque verticality. UNC also gets helped a bit because Harrell probably makes that shot more times than not, but Hubert does do a good job of staying vertical and not fouling.

Also, credit Roy Williams for using the offense-defense substitutions down the stretch. Overall, I thought Roy did an excellent job as coach during the game. And no, I’m not just saying that because Paige hit a clutch shot and UNC won. I agreed with Roy‘s choices in the final minute of the ND game and will support him again now. I think he is doing a great job with this team.

Back to the game.

00:39 — Brice Johnson’s hook shot, assisted by Marcus Paige (70-69 UNC)

This was a big shot that gave the Heel’s the lead.

Paige took the ball at the top of the key and drove right, taking three Louisville defenders with him. I’m not sure how Paige got the ball to Johnson, but he did and Brice finished the shot to give the Heels the lead.

0:08 — Marcus Paige’s game winning floater (72-71 UNC)

This was an extremely difficult shot, but somehow Paige made it go in. Amazing shot making and amazing clutch play from Marcus Paige.

Final minute — Three misses by Louisville

The Cardinals missed three very makeable shots in the final minute on Saturday. If any of them would have gone in, the Heels would have lost, no doubt. First, Wayne Blackshear missed an open three-pointer with 54 seconds left. Mangok Mathiang did get an offensive rebound, but he dribbled the ball off his foot and Carolina got the ball back, setting up the Paige floater.

Remember, Paige’s game winner did give Louisville plenty of time (8 seconds) to try and respond. Luckily for the Heels, Wayne Blackshear missed another three-pointer in the corner and Terry Rozier missed the putback as time expired. Blackshear was wide open because Paige got stuck underneath the hoop after hitting the shot…

(Seriously, it is like a “Where’s Waldo” game in this screengrab. Paige is somewhere underneath the basket, but I can’t find him.)
and wouldn’t show up in the frame until 1.2 seconds were left on the clock…

So, Louisville was playing 5 on 4 (!!!) and still couldn’t get a point in the final seconds of the game.

More from North Carolina Tar Heels

Credit the Tar Heel defense for holding Louisville to just two points in the final four minutes of the game, but the Heels also got a little lucky that Blackshear or Rozier didn’t hit their open shots in the final minute.
That is a more complete picture of how the Tar Heels won. But I also want to make another point. Yes, Marcus Paige’s shot was great, and yes, he is a hero to Tar Heel fans young and old, but don’t forget the other guys. Remember what J.P. Tokoto, Joel Berry II, Desmond Hubert, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson did — their contributions helped the Tar Heels win the game as much as Paige’s shot did.