CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina spent Sunday clanging free throw after free throw off the rim. Each miss proved costly once Belmont made a last-minute comeback to hand the No. 12 Tar Heels their first home nonconference loss in eight years.
The Tar Heels missed 26 free throws in the 83-80 loss to the Bruins in the Hall of Fame Tipoff. That included a woeful 9-for-28 showing in the first half that undercut any momentum the Tar Heels were building when they pushed the ball into the paint or hit the offensive glass.
UNC coach Roy Williams said the players each shot 200 free throws during a recent practice and finished with a cumulative mark of better than 70 percent. Yet on Sunday, the home crowd started holding its collective breath every time a UNC player stepped to the line.
“I don’t know,” sophomore Brice Johnson said of the free-throw struggles. “That hurt. We should’ve made free throws. ... Make at least 10 of those we win the game. We just have to concentrate, just take our time.”
Sophomore J.P. Tokoto had the most frustrating day, going 4-for-16 with a run of eight straight misses during the first half. The Tar Heels got a little better after halftime by making 13 of 20 (65 percent) to finish at 22-for-48 (46 percent), while Belmont hit 20 of 22 to take advantage of its chances.
“They stepped up to the line and showed toughness and knocked down their free throws,” Tokoto said. “And we kind of didn’t.”
For Belmont, senior J.J. Mann hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 13.1 seconds left and finished with a career-best 28 points.
His last 3 gave the Bruins an 81-80 lead. Then, after a missed shot for the lead from Tokoto, Caleb Chowbay scored on a breakaway layup with 0.2 seconds left to seal a stunning win that had Belmont players rushing onto the court to celebrate at the horn.