North Carolina met its match on Friday. And then some.
Fifth-seeded Auburn took on the No. 1 seed North Carolina’s potent offensive machine and bettered it in a stunning 97-80 win to advance to the Midwest regional final.
With the loss, North Carolina is the first No. 1 seed to fall in the NCAA tournament
The first half lived up to the up-and-down track meet promised, with Auburn keeping up with North Carolina’s vaunted pace as the two teams traded blows.
But the end of the half was a premonition of what was yet to come as Auburn closed on a 6-0 run that included a transition layup from J’Von McCormick to beat the buzzer to take a 41-39 lead into halftime.
Auburn kept the throttle on to start the second half, opening with a pair of 3-pointers and a Malik Dunbar jumper to extend its lead to 49-39 and assert full control over the game.
The Tar Heels made repeated efforts to close the gap, getting within 60-54 with 13:41 remaining.
But then the Tigers opened the flood gates. Three-point shots that mostly missed as Auburn played a close first half started to drop with abandon.
Carolina had no answer. It was playing from behind as Auburn only got hotter from the field and failed to find the run that would keep its championship hopes alive.
It wasn’t all good news for Auburn. Forward Chuma Okeke suffered what appeared to be a serious injury late in the second half when his left knee buckled as he planted for a layup. He limped off the court with assistance and did not return to the game.
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