Madison Square Garden —This is the game that both teams undoubtedly marked off on their calendar and the first twenty-minutes North Carolina hung with the Huskies but fizzled out the last two minutes of the game.
UConn, who were coming off a tough loss Friday night against Kansas, were relentless on the boards, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds.
Playing their third game at the “Worlds Famous Arena” this season, UConn (8-1) got back playing Huskies’ basketball against the Tar Heels. The defending NCAA champions won a game in this event for the first time in five tries.
Guard Cam Spencer scored 23 points, seven boards, and six assists as fifth-ranked UConn came through in the last few minutes of the game for an 87-76 victory over No. 9 North Carolina in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday night in front of 11,000 plus fans.
“We just got absolutely everything out of what we wanted when we put this on the schedule,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “The atmosphere is awesome. The opponent is probably one of the best teams in the country, and it was such a great test coming off the disappointment of the Kansas loss on the road. Just to put that kind of impressive performance — it speaks to the group we have this year.”
Alex Karaban poured in 18 points and nine rebounds, Tristen Newton chipped in 14 points, and Solomon Ball had 13 points for the Huskies which shot 51.5 percent for the court.
Spencer shot 8 of 14 overall and banged in 16 points in the opening frame. He finished with his second-highest point total this season after shooting 2 of 12 at Kansas when he injured his foot in the first half.
“I definitely came in with a lot of motivation and anger to just help the team in any way that I could,” Spencer said. “I thought we just raised our intensity level from that Kansas game with a lot of little things. So I’m just really proud of the team, and everybody showed up today.”
RJ Davis led the way for Tar Heels (7-2) with 26 points and Harrison Ingram poured in 20. Armando Bacot finished the game with 13 points and 13 boards, but North Carolina shot poorly in the second half, shooting 39% in the final 20 minutes of play and 44% overall.
“We had good looks,” coach Hubert Davis said. “We just didn’t make them.”
UConn started to put all together in the second half, taking a 62-49 lead on Spencer’s jumper as the shot clock expired with 14:27 remaining in the contest. North Carolina got within five on a jumper by Davis with 11:02 left, but the Huskies sprinted off an 18-6 surge for an 83-66 advantage with about three minutes left and never looked back.
North Carolina, which has topped nationally ranked opponents Arkansas and Tennessee since late November, ended up 7-for-20 on 3-pointers, including a 0-for-6 line for Cormac Ryan. Unlike in Saturday’s big second-half comeback against Florida State, the Tar Heels weren’t able to create turnovers with full-court pressure to slow down the Connecticut’s offense.
“I was just trying to make winning plays and really just trying to affect the game rather than just shooting,” Karaban said. “So I think going in with that approach really helped me in getting my confidence back.”
North Carolina: Played its fourth non-conference game against a power conference opponent and scored its fewest points all season. North Carolina is 0-2 against Big East teams and 2-0 versus the SEC.
North Carolina: Will face No. 16 Kentucky in Atlanta on Dec. 16.
UConn: Will host Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday before playing No. 7 Gonzaga in Seattle on Dec. 15.