After initially digging themselves into an early 17-4 deficit, Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns finally found their shooting stroke and outlasted the No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels in the final seconds, 92-89, aided by a big-time effort on the defensive end.
The nail-biting, narrow win came courtesy of a career showing from Kerwin Roach II, who poured on 32 points on a tremendously efficient 12-of-15 from the floor and a perfect 3-of-3 from the perimeter. Roach consistently broke down the Tar Heels defense and added seven assists and four steals — he wasn’t just a scorer on Thanksgiving.
Coming out of the gates, however, it was the Coby White show early on.
After a Roach alley-oop connected with Jericho Sims to put the first points of the evening on the board, North Carolina roared to a 17-2 run, thanks in large part to White’s sharpshooting, as he connected on a pair of triples to score eight of the Tar Heels’ first 11 points.
In what quickly amounted as the key back-and-forth battle of the evening, Texas finally found the scoreboard against as Roach sank a free throw before drilling a three-pointer moments later. Elijah Mitrou-Long added a three of his own shortly thereafter, as did Matt Coleman just seconds after a Roach assist found Jaxson Hayes for a jam.
After such efforts saw Texas claw back to snag a 29-28 edge, White found his stroke once again, hitting back-to-back threes before Roach answered with one of his own. Not to be outdone, White added a jumper and a layup to lift UNC to a 40-34 cushion before Roach cut that in half just seconds later with another three-pointer. After Roach added another jumper moments later to reach 18 points at the half, Dylan Osetkowski connected on his first three in five tries to provide the Horns with the narrow 43-42 halftime lead, despite White’s 20 points.
The key to the first-half comeback, aside from Roach’s heroics? Swarming defense and a soft perimeter touch, as Texas forced nine first-half steals and sank 6-of-16 threes.
It was much of the same for both sides in the second half.
Jase Febres and Osetkowski each nailed quick perimeter looks to extend the lead to 51-44. Coleman and Long then joined in from long range, and after some connections at the rim from Roach and Coleman, the Longhorns lead had ballooned to 66-55 with just over 11 minutes to play. The next few minutes became a back-and-forth affair with North Carolina slowly chipping into Texas lead before Febres found the bottom of the net again, giving Texas some breathing room in the form of a 76-67 cushion — a spark headlined by a thunderous jam from Roach, which provided the senior with his career-high 28th point.
KERWIN ROACH, YOU ARE RIDICULOUS! pic.twitter.com/vvGXyTCErY— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) November 23, 2018
Then White erupted, once again.
After a pair of Roach connections from the charity stripe gave Texas a double-digit edge with 7:31 remaining, White nailed yet another three-pointer, and then another, and then a pair of free throws, and then another fadeaway perimeter heave at the buzzer with Roach contesting as well as anyone could.
In the meantime, however, Osetkowski, Roach, Hayes, and Coleman each found points, preventing Texas from surrendering the lead throughout White’s hot streak.
With Texas clinging to a slim four-point lead, 87-83, with just 3:03 to play, Roach missed a jumper before Coleman fouled White on a three-point attempt with 2:14 to play, though he cashed in with only two points. With the Texas lead sitting at 87-85, the two teams each fell cold, including White, who missed a potential lead-capturing three with 1:03 to play.
It wasn’t until just 36 ticks remained on the clock until Coleman snapped the scoring slump with a connection from the free-throw line, though he made just one, leaving the door open for North Carolina to tie the game at 88. Luke Maye earned a clean look to do so after utilizing a pump-fake against Jaxson Hayes, but after the latter secured the miss and was fouled, Hayes flashed composure and confidence in sinking both free-throw attempts to lift Texas’ lead to 90-85 with just 21 seconds to play.
Hayes finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks in another eye-opening performance. The freshman’s most impressive stat of the night? His 5-of-6 showing at the charity stripe.
Nassir Little and Osetkowski exchanged free throws before a Little three pulled North Carolina back within three with just four ticks remaining, but after Febres split a pair of free throws, UNC was left with just one second to get the game tying shot off.
That potential full-court heave didn’t happen thanks to a deflection by Hayes, and thus, the Horns outlasted the Tar Heels, continuing the streak of Texas hardwood success over North Carolina — Roy Williams has lost seven of eight games against the burnt orange and white since taking over in Chapel Hill. The Longhorns held the lead throughout the entire second half.
As noted, Roach finished with a career-high 32 points, though White owned the game’s scoring crown with 33 points on 10-of-17 from the field and 7-of-10 from deep. Maye (11), Little (11), and Cameron Johnson (16) each joined White in double figures.
Likewise, Roach was joined by three Longhorns with double figures in the scoring column. After struggling mightily early this season, Coleman contributed 16 points with two connections coming from deep. Hayes was a force on the interior, nearly notching a double-double with 15 points on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line to go along with nine boards and three blocks. After missing each of his first four three-point attempts, Osetkowski bounced back, converting his next two and 4-of-8 from the field overall for 14 points.
All totaled, the Longhorns converted 11-of-24 from the perimeter, and following with the early-season emphasis, Texas forced 17 North Carolina turnovers, with which the Longhorns added 31 points.
With the win, the Longhorns advance to the Las Vegas International Championship game, where they’ll await the winner of UCLA vs. Michigan State.