CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina made shot after shot, finally backing its Hall of Fame coach’s claim that he has a sharp-shooting bunch. When they did miss, the Tar Heels relentlessly flew to the rim to pursue the ball for another chance.
Saving all that for a highly ranked opponent in a marquee nonconference game will only help with confidence, too.
Cameron Johnson had 25 points and six 3-pointers to lift No. 12 UNC over No. 4 Gonzaga 103-90 on Saturday night, a strong performance for a team that had flopped in a previous measuring-stick nonconference game.
Facing a team that ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 a week ago, the Tar Heels (8-2) shot 57 percent in the first half to build a 14-point lead at the break. They never let the Zags closer than eight after halftime.
“I think we needed it, just to show ourselves how good we can be,” senior guard Kenny Williams said. “We see everybody talking about ‘Carolina’s defense is horrible’ and all that, so we just need to show ourselves how good we can be and the potential we could play with going deep into the season.”
UNC finished the game shooting 55 percent, including 13 of 25 from 3-point range, in a matchup featuring two of the nation’s best offensive teams. Yet it was the Tar Heels’ work on the boards that proved just as important.
Zach Norvell Jr. scored 21 points to lead the Bulldogs (9-2), who shot 56 percent after halftime and 51 percent overall. Gonzaga never recovered after falling behind by double figures in the first half and kept coming up a shot or two short of really upping the pressure on the Tar Heels to hold that margin after halftime.
No. 13 Virginia Tech 73, Washington 61: ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The Hokies withstood a second-half rally from the Huskies to earn a win in the Air Force Reserve Boardwalk Classic. Nickell Alexander-Walker scored 24 points for Virginia Tech (9-1), which won its fourth straight.
No. 19 Kentucky 88, Utah 61: LEXINGTON, Ky. — Freshman Keldon Johnson scored 24 points, including five 3-pointers in the first half, and Kentucky beat Utah. Johnson made a career-high six shots from long range on seven attempts as Kentucky (8-2) made a season-high 12 3-pointers.
No. 20 Arizona St. 76, Georgia 74: ATHENS, Ga. — Remy Martin scored 21 points, Romello White added 16 and the Sun Devils rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat the Bulldogs.
Belmont 74, UCLA 72: LOS ANGELES — Kevin McClain scored 20 points and hit the go-ahead layup with 2.3 seconds left, lifting Belmont over UCLA in what coach Rick Byrd said was the Tennessee school’s biggest win since stunning North Carolina in 2013.
No. 1 Kansas 74, Villanova 71: LAWRENCE, Kan. — Dedric Lawson had 28 points and 12 rebounds, Lagerald Vick scored 29, and the Jayhawks made enough free throws down the stretch to beat the Wildcats in a rematch of last season’s Final Four showdown won by Villanova.
No. 3 Tennessee 102, Memphis 92: MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Admiral Schofield scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half and added 11 rebounds as Tennessee snapped a three-game skid to its in-state rival.
Old Dominion 68: No. 25 Syracuse 62: SYRACUSE, N.Y. — B.J. Stith scored all of his 18 points in the second half, and Old Dominion overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to stun Syracuse. Xavier Green had 15 points and Marquis Godwin added 11 for the Monarchs.