CHAPEL HILL (AP) — North Carolina spent Sunday clanging free throw after free throw off the rim. Each miss proved costly once Belmont made a last-minute comeback to hand the No. 12 Tar Heels their first home nonconference loss in eight years.
The Tar Heels missed 26 free throws in the 83-80 loss to the Bruins in the Hall of Fame Tipoff. That included a woeful 9-for-28 showing in the first half that undercut any momentum the Tar Heels were building when they pushed the ball into the paint or hit the offensive glass.
UNC coach Roy Williams said the players each shot 200 free throws during a recent practice and finished with a cumulative mark of better than 70 percent. Yet on Sunday, the home crowd started holding its collective breath every time a UNC player stepped to the line.
“I don’t know,” sophomore Brice Johnson said of the free-throw struggles. “That hurt. We should’ve made free throws. … Make at least 10 of those we win the game. We just have to concentrate, just take our time.”
Sophomore J.P. Tokoto had the most frustrating day, going 4-for-16 with a run of eight straight misses during the first half. The Tar Heels got a little better after halftime by making 13 of 20 (65 percent) to finish at 22-for-48 (46 percent), while Belmont hit 20 of 22 to take advantage of its chances.
“They stepped up to the line and showed toughness and knocked down their free throws,” Tokoto said. “And we kind of didn’t.”
For Belmont, senior J.J. Mann hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 13.1 seconds left and finished with a career-best 28 points.
His last 3 gave the Bruins an 81-80 lead. Then, after a missed shot for the lead from Tokoto, Caleb Chowbay scored on a breakaway layup with 0.2 seconds left to seal a stunning win that had Belmont players rushing onto the court to celebrate at the horn.
The Tar Heels (2-1) had rallied from 11 down in the second half to lead by eight with about 4 minutes left before Belmont’s comeback.
“There aren’t great victories unless you beat great programs,” longtime Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “… It’s a big moment right now for us.”
Mann hit five 3-pointers and added nine rebounds to lead the Bruins, who hit 15 of 37 3s.
“I was about 99 percent sure it was going in,” Mann said of his go-ahead shot.
Drew Windler scored 16 points and hit four 3s of his own for the Bruins, who shot 45 percent and managed to steal back a game that looked to be slipping away late.
North Carolina ran off 14 straight points to go ahead in the second half and extended its perimeter pressure on Belmont’s outside shooters, holding the Bruins to one field goal over a 10-minute span. But after the Tar Heels had pushed ahead 73-65 on Marcus Paige’s driving basket with 3:46 left, Mann and the Bruins pushed back.
Mann knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to 78-75 at the 1-minute mark, then followed with another less than 10 seconds later that pulled Belmont to within 80-78.
The Tar Heels had a chance to make it a two-possession game again, but Paige lost the ball on a dribble drive with 19.9 seconds left, leading to a jump ball that set up Mann’s final shot.
James Michael McAdoo scored a career-high 27 points and had 13 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels, who again played without leading scorer P.J. Hairston and senior guard Leslie McDonald due to NCAA eligibility concerns. Paige finished with 17 points.