KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — North Carolina led for less than two minutes Saturday afternoon at Tennessee, but the Tar Heels were on top when it mattered most in the 78-73 victory over the Vols.
A capacity crowd of 21,678 turned out at Thompson-Boling Arena, “checkerboarding” the crowd with color coordinator orange-and-white sections — save some loyal North Carolina fans who dotted the arena with light blue.
The No. 20-ranked Vols (7-2) led throughout much of the game, but the No. 7 Tar Heels (10-1) clamped down late, playing like a team that knew how to elevate its level of play in big-time environments.
Grant Williams led Tennessee with 15 points, including a basket with 1:07 left that gave the Vols a 70-67 lead.
North Carolina’s Joel Barry ll had a game-high 21 points for the Tar Heels, including a pair of free throws that closed the gap to 70-69 with a minute left.
The Vols turned the ball over on the ensuing possession when Lamonte Turner was trapped in the backcourt, and North Carolina’s Kenny Williams hit a 3-pointer with 32.7 seconds left that gave the Tar Heels a lead at 72-70 that they would not relinquish.
It was the first game between Top 25 men’s basketball teams in Knoxville since 2010, which was also the last time Tennessee was ranked in the Top 25 prior to this season.
The Vols managed just one field field goal over the final 7:44 — a Jordan Bowden 3-pointer with 7:45 left had given Tennessee a 64-60 lead.
Tennessee held a 38-32 lead at intermission, up by as many as nine points and paced by James Daniel lll’s 11 points through the first 20 minutes.
The Vols played big and played hard against the favored Tar Heels early on, holding a 4-0 advantage in blocked shots and 6-1 in steals in the first half.
Tennessee entered the game leading the SEC with 19.1 assists per game, but North Carolina’s defense created problems for the Vols’ guards. Tennessee had 11 assists and 13 turnovers.
North Carolina outscored Tennessee 22-8 in the paint in the second half, also out-rebounding the Vols 26-20 over the final 20 minutes to rally for the win.
Tennessee out-scored North Carolina by a team-best 6 points in the 19 minutes the 6-foot-11 Kyle Alexander was on the court. Alexander had five points, four rebounds and three blocked shots in the game.
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