The shot will be replayed over and over on TV, and North Carolina surely won’t forget it anytime soon. It was the shot that shocked the No. 12 Tar Heels (2-1) and dealt them just their second non-conference home loss of the Roy Williams era.
Belmont’s J.J. Mann had already hit two 3-pointers within eight seconds to whittle down a UNC lead that reached eight points late in the game. Following a Marcus Paige turnover, Mann rose again for one last 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining. There was never any question. The shot swished through the net and gave the Bruins a one-point lead. UNC frantically tried to get the ball up the court and retake the lead, but a J.P. Tokoto jumpshot hit off the rim, and Belmont scored a layup with time expiring to seal the 83-80 upset Sunday evening.
The game was lost before the ball even left Mann’s hand, though. As the game grew long, it become clear that UNC was doomed to a losing fate. The culprit? The Tar Heels, themselves.
Williams tried to take blame for the loss, saying he didn’t prepare his team well enough for end-of-game situations, but the Tar Heels made too many crucial errors and missed too many opportunities to win a tough game while shorthanded.
“I did a poor job coaching. This is on me,” Williams said. “I apologized to them. I told them it was my fault. But, I said we did make some mistakes. We need to get shots and not make turnovers down the stretch, and we need to make free throws down the stretch. But, the biggest thing is, you have get up and make that shot a little more difficult. We didn’t do a very good job of that.”
The Tar Heels found success slowing a 3-point-happy Belmont offense in the second half by switching on their screens around the perimeter. It opened the door for a UNC surge midway through the half, but that defense broke down in the final minutes. The Bruins hit five of their 15 3-pointers in the final seven minutes to secure the game’s fate. Tokoto said there was a series of mental lapses on the defensive end during that stretch, including when he misplayed a screen on Mann's final shot.
More damning than the spotty perimeter defense, though, was the Tar Heels’ inability to convert at the foul line. UNC shot an appalling 22-48 from the free throw line, which marks the most Tar Heel misses under Williams. That’s 26 points UNC left at the line, while Belmont hit 20 of their 22 shots from the charity stripe.
“It’s tough. When you look at the box score, it’s tough because you left 20-some points out there that are just gimmes,” Paige said. “You don’t expect to shoot 100 percent, but you expect to make more than we did tonight.”
Tokoto alone missed 12 of his 16 attempts, and James Michael McAdoo missed eight of his 19. Tokoto said it became a mental problem for him as the misses piled up. Even the Smith Center fans were giving Tokoto the Bronx cheer treatment when he finally knocked one down late in the game.
McAdoo, who scored a career-high 27 points in the loss, said UNC doesn’t want to look at the horrid free throw shooting as the reason it lost. There were other self-inflicted wounds that made a Tar Heel victory appear unlikely, even after UNC went on a 22-5 run in the second half to finally grab control of the contest.
Holding a three-possession lead with fewer than two-and-a-half minutes to go, UNC failed to put away the game and allowed Belmont to shoot its way back into it. In the last two minutes, McAdoo missed two free throws, and Paige turned the ball over thrice.
Meanwhile, Belmont played error-free basketball and slowly brought the deficit within striking distance. Then, with 14 ticks on the clock, the Bruins struck.
“We turned the ball over, and they hit some big shots,” said Paige, who finished with 17 points and five assists but also five turnovers. “Every assignment has to be done correctly in a one-possession game in the last minute. It boils down to the fact that we had four different opportunities to go up, and I turned the ball over on three of them. That’s the ball game. It can’t happen.
“We’ve got to learn how to win games.”