After an easy blowout win in round one of the NCAA Tournament, The North Carolina Tar Heels set their sights on the second round. With the #8 Arkansas Razorbacks as their next opponent, advancing to the Sweet 16 wouldn’t be an easy feat. In the last game, Joel Berry II suffered a slight ankle injury and with a game to ensue, few were sure if he would lace up and play. But Berry got the start and faced a battle against counterpart Jaylen Barford. Both teams played well but in the end, North Carolina showed why they are a #1 seed.
First Half recap
From the tip-off until around the five-minute mark in the first half, North Carolina dominate on both sides. Defensively they were flying around the court trying to contain the offensive weapons of Arkansas. Jaylen Barford and Moses Kingsley had trouble early on being effective on offense and it cost them. Meanwhile, Berry II and Justin Jackson netted a three each to begin the game. The front court for UNC proved vital in this game as they snatched nearly everything off the glass out-rebounding Arkansas by 13 total. The lead for North Carolina grew as high as 15 points but Arkansas wouldn’t go down without a fight. With 3:46 left in the first half, the Razorbacks went on an 11-0 powered by bench talent Anton Beard and Daryl Macon. Bench play proved to be key due to Arkansas bench put up 32 points compared to only 20 for UNC.
Second half recap
With Arkansas only down 33-38 at the half, they were primed for a huge upset in the NCAA Tournament. The tough physical play continued in the second half as there were many lead changes. Joel Berry II struggled mightily and maybe displayed one of his worst performances ever in a North Carolina jersey. He finished with only 10 points on 2-for-13 shooting and worst of all, didn’t control the tempo for his team. Jackson, on the other hand, played well but just couldn’t find as many opportunities. His 15 points were key along with grabbing eight rebounds and adding five assists plus five steals. Although, Arkansas did feature one of the best defenders in the SEC in Kingsley, the UNC front court trio performed as well as you could hope for.
Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley collectively played one of the best games in their history together. Combined they had 32 points, 23 rebounds and 4 blocks which are incredible stats. But Meeks more than anybody displayed to the world why he’s leading guy in the paint. Arkansas were clicking on all cylinders and Barford made a lay-up in the second half that put them up 65-60. But North Carolina went on a 12-0 run in final 3:30 and Meeks finished a tip-in that was a key basket of the game. With 49 seconds left in the game, UNC was up three points and Arkansas needed to play the foul game. After a few fouls, Jackson ended the game with a steal and dunk making the final score was 72-65.
Preview: #1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs #4 Butler Bulldogs
With a strenuous win against #8 Arkansas, #1 North Carolina will have five days to recover before they face #4 Butler. Roy Williams’ confidence will grow with how his team performed down the stretch against a battle-ready team. The Butler Bulldogs are slightly smarter with each possession and UNC will have to be sharp on every play. Head coach Chris Holtmann will make Butler slow down the tempo and try to pick apart the defense of the Tar Heels. For North Carolina to be effective, Berry II must take better shots than he did against Arkansas. Jacking up long threes and forcing up shots early in the shot clock could play right into Butler’s gameplan.