RJ Davis scored 27 points while No. 17 North Carolina built a huge lead and then held off a second-half push by No. 10 Tennessee for a 100-92 win on Wednesday night in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.
Armando Bacot added 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels (6-1), who dominated the opening 20 minutes to lead by as many as 23 and score 61 points by halftime. That lead grew to 76-52 early in the second half before the Volunteers (4-3) flirted with pulling off a miraculous comeback behind a huge performance from Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht.
The 6-foot-6 guard scored 22 of his career-best 37 points after halftime, though he crashed to the court after appearing to roll his left ankle while being fouled on a drive with 1:39 left. Knecht had to be helped to the bench putting little weight on his foot and didn’t return.
Jonas Aidoo filled in at the line and made both free throws to get Tennessee within its closest reach at 92-86. But the Tar Heels, as they had all night, made their late free throws to stay in control of this one with Davis and freshman Elliot Cadeau combining to go 8 for 8 to push UNC to the century mark.
UNC won despite shooting 32.1% after halftime and going the final 6:56 without a field goal.
Josiah-Jordan James added 20 points for Tennessee, which shot 56% for the game while making 8 of 16 3s after halftime to get back in this one.
UNC shot 58% before halftime while making 7 of 16 3-pointers and tallying 13 assists on its 19 baskets. The Tar Heels also went 16 for 16 at the line, nearly matching Tennessee’s season-high defensive scoring allowance (61.5) by the break.
Harrison Ingram added 20 points for North Carolina, which made 32 of 38 free throws compared to 13 of 16 for Tennessee.
Tennessee: This marked the first time the Volunteers had played three straight ranked nonconference teams in the same season, following losses to now-No. 1 Purdue and then-No. 1 Kansas in last week’s Maui Invitational. Offense wasn’t the problem in this one; rather, it was the inability to stop the Tar Heels in the first half from crisply moving the ball and getting clean looks against a defense ranked No. 1 nationally by KenPom (87.6 points allowed per 100 possessions).
North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost to now-No. 18 Villanova in a tough overtime game in the Battle 4 Atlantis but beat then-ranked Arkansas in the third-place game in the Bahamas. An offseason roster overhaul is showing promising early signs with a better pace and improved depth, along with the development of an elite passer in freshman point guard Elliot Cadeau (10 assists).
Tennessee: The Volunteers host George Mason on Tuesday.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels open Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday against visiting Florida State.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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