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March 1, 2008
Tar Heels Overcome Historic Effort
North Carolina 90, Boston College 80

by Caleb Peiffer

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Result: North Carolina, 90-80 in 67 possessions.

Seminal Play: Boston College guard Tyrese Rice went through a stretch of play early in the first half that most basketball players, on any level, can only dream of experiencing. Rice produced a 12-0 run by himself, hitting three pointers on four consecutive possessions and becoming more animated after each made shot as the crowd gained in energy. He followed up that stretch with a layup that made the score 18-5, and then hit two more three-pointers in a row, followed immediately by a conventional three-point play, to put the Eagles up 27-12. Later on, after his seventh three-pointer of the first half made the score 40-24, Rice had to fan himself off as he backed down the court. The junior point guard scored 34 points in the first half on a remarkable 93 eFG% shooting (10-of-15 from the floor, 8-of-9 from three-point range).

Quotable: “I will say that that's about as impressive as anything that I've ever seen. I don't know that I've seen many exhibits more than what I just saw.”
--North Carolina coach Roy Williams, on the 46-point effort of Rice.

The Big Picture: The Tar Heels survived Rice's amazing game to remain perfect on the road this season, at 12-0, and got big contributions from key players Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. Ty Lawson also made his return after sitting for six games with a sprained ankle, and while Lawson struggled initially, he improved his play in the second half, dishing three assists and attacking the basket on a couple of occasions. If North Carolina and Duke both win their next Atlantic Coast contest--the Tar Heels have Florida St. at home on Tuesday, and the Blue Devils are at Virginia Wednesday--they will play next Saturday at Duke for the ACC regular season title.

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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.—Boston College received the greatest scoring output ever produced against North Carolina in an Atlantic Coast Conference game on Saturday evening, but Tyrese Rice's magnificent 46-point performance was superseded by the balance and talent of the Tar Heels, who came back from a second-half deficit of 18 to beat the Eagles, 90-80 at Conte Forum.

Rice hit eight of nine threes in the first half and scored 34 points in the period to carry the Eagles to a 14-point lead at the break, but the North Carolina defense proved nearly impenetrable after halftime. When Rice inevitably awoke from his stretch of otherworldly shooting, it was the Tar Heels' shooting guards, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, that picked up the offensive mantle. Ellington and Green combined to hit 11 of 15 shots and score 30 points in the second half, more makes and points than Boston College as a team produced in the latter 20 minutes.

Rice knocked home two-point baskets on the first two Eagles possessions of the second half to give his team a 58-40 lead, but from that point forward the Tar Heels scored 42 of the game's next 54 points. That included an 18-0 run in just six minutes that began with the score 61-44 and completely erased the advantage that Rice had piled up against North Carolina. Green knocked down three-pointers on two of three possessions to begin the stretch, and Ellington followed his teammate's lead to put in a triple of his own on North Carolina's next trip, which shaved the Eagles lead down to 61-55.

After a timeout, Ty Lawson, seeing his first action since missing six games with an ankle sprain, stole the ball from Eagles' forward Josh Southern, a turnover that led to another three-pointer from Green. With the Boston College offense clearly in chaos and the good flow of the first half long gone, Ellington capitalized on a miscommunication between two Eagles to steal the ball from guard Corey Raji. Ellington, a 6'4 sophomore with a formidable wingspan, glided easily up the court and swooped in to the basket for a scoop layup that pulled North Carolina within a point at 61-60.

“That's vintage Carolina basketball. They got out and ran in transition,” Rice said of the Tar Heels, who entered the game averaging nearly 77 possessions per 40 minutes, the third-fastest pace in the nation. “In the second half [Ellington] came out a lot more aggressive—he got comfortable, started knocking down shots, [and] Danny Green got in a rhythm.”

Ellington shot 0-of-4 in the first half and the two points he scored came on technical free throws, but he did it all in the second half, including find his teammates. On the possession after his layup cut the lead to one, Ellington helped give the Tar Heels their first lead of the game when he found Marcus Ginyard wide open heading to the basket for a dunk after Ginyard had slipped his man on a backdoor cut.

The teams traded points for the next several minutes, before Ginyard followed a Hansbrough miss with a tip-in, and, after another Boston College turnover on the other end, Ellington hit his second three-pointer of the game, which put the Tar Heels up 71-67 with 7:48 to play. North Carolina would continue extending its lead during the remainder of the contest to win going away.

Rice was able to shake free on the perimeter repeatedly in the first half from North Carolina's senior point guard Quentin Thomas, who had filled in for Lawson in the previous six games. Thomas started out the second half guarding Rice, but after those first two baskets to open the period, Roy Williams used Lawson and Ginyard to guard Rice, who was held to just two baskets and no three-pointers the rest of the way.

“I was really surprised at [Thomas] early because he looked shook, and he's played so great for six games,” Williams said. “Ty [Lawson]'s quick enough to stay close enough to him, and Marcus [Ginyard] has the extra length.”

Rice scored more points than any other player has in an ACC game against North Carolina, and the third-most against the Tar Heels in the team's history. The junior point guard surpassed his career high of 32 points and six three-pointers by halftime, and came within three points of equaling the most points in a game by any Boston College player.

“I didn't know [how many points I had] until I actually looked up at the end of the half to see what the score was, and I was like, 'wow,'” Rice said. “I really couldn't believe...it didn't really look right.”

Rice hit shot after shot in the first half, scoring 12 consecutive points with three-pointers on four straight possessions that turned a 4-2 Boston College lead into 16-2. With the score 18-10, he hit two more threes in a row and followed that up with a three-point play. He ran off 21 straight Eagles points in all to make it 27-12 with 13 minutes to play, and then kept scoring throughout the rest of the half.

North Carolina was kept from being blown out by the play of junior forward Tyler Hansbrough, who scored 17 first half points and was a perfect 9-of-9 from the free-throw line. Hansbrough had just eight in the second half, but his supporting cast carried the weight, including Lawson, who played 13 second-half minutes and seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. After failing to score in eight first-half minutes, Lawson had two noticeable drives to the basket in the second, including one where he motored down the baseline and finished with an up-and-under reverse layup.

“Tywon with two hurt ankles is faster than most people that I know,” Rice said. “He still seemed pretty quick—he seemed like he was a little tentative at first, maybe in the first half. But in the second half he did exactly what I expected him to do. He came out and he ran that team.”

Lawson had just four points, but he tallied five assists against just one turnover. Ellington finished with 20, and Danny Green with 18. Rice, who shot 14-of-25 from the floor (72 eFG%) and 10-of-11 from the line, was the only Eagles player to score in double figures.

The Tar Heels improved to 12-0 on the road, and 7-0 in conference play, and stayed even with Duke, which narrowly pulled out a one-point win over North Carolina St. If both teams win their next game, they will play each other next Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the ACC Championship.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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