CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The North Carolina Tar Heels saved themselves and some ACC pride last night in the Smith Center.
The 10th-ranked Tar Heels broke away from Connecticut in the closing minutes to post a 79-64 victory in the final game of the second ACC-Big East Challenge.
It wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't pretty. North Carolina made 28 turnovers and shot 39 percent but somehow found a way to make that enough.
"Our defense was superb in the second half. They didn't get a good look at the basket," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith, whose Tar Heels held Connecticut to 28 percent shooting and outscored the Huskies by 18 points in the second half.
North Carolina didn't get its first lead until seven minutes remained. Until then, North Carolina, which trailed 9-0 at one point, had been sloppy in a game that was often as ugly as it was intense. But in the second half, and especially down the stretch, the Tar Heels were able to fight off Connecticut's pressure and hold off the Huskies.
"I thought we broke down," said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. "We didn't get good shots, and we got panicky. It was more mental than physical."
It was a dramatic reversal from the first half to the second. Although far from perfect, the Tar Heels were more patient against Connecticut's swarming pressure, and it paid off.
Said North Carolina center Pete Chilcutt: "We were a lot more patient attacking the press. We knew what we wanted to do. We just weren't doing it."
North Carolina finally got the lead when Chilcutt scored on a twisting layup off a Rick Fox feed to give the Tar Heels a 54-52 lead that seemed to break them free of the frustrations that had dogged them through much of the evening.
"We knew we [the ACC] weren't doing too well," said Fox, who led the Tar Heels with 18 points. "We wanted to show a little pride in ourselves and our conference."