Boston College's Reggie Jackson (0) puts up a shot against UNC's John Henson (31) with 4.6 seconds to play in the game. The shot rimmed out and the Tar Heels escaped with 48-46 victory. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org
updated: 7:43 p.m.
CHAPEL HILL – Boston College junior Reggie Jackson’s potentially game-winning 3-pointer came so close to falling Saturday that he believed – half joking, of course -- that North Carolina must have tightened the screws on the rim.
Instead, the 19th-ranked Tar Heels tightened the screws on their defense.
UNC overcame a double-digit comeback attempt by the Eagles, and its worst-ever scoring output in 361 games at the Smith Center , to win 48-46. The Tar Heels prevailed because they held BC to 26.9 percent shooting, dominated the backboards, and got a fortuitous defensive play from 6-feet-10 forward John Henson, who was guarding the 6-3 Jackson’s shot with scant seconds left.
Carolina (20-6, 10-2 ACC) has now shot worse than 40 percent – while holding foes to worse than 40 percent -- in its last three games, winning all three. Boston College (16-10, 6-6), which set a new school low for points in an ACC game, has now lost four of its last six.
“We’re blessed to have defense like we have, because we have so many games that we’ve pulled out because of our defense,’’ said Henson, who finished with 6 points and 12 rebounds. “… Either we’re playing real good offensively, or real good defensively. Once we find that perfect medium, we’ll be hard to beat.”
That perfect medium was hard to find from the outset on Saturday, though. It was a tedious beginning, and the Tar Heels led 21-20 at halftime, tying the worst output in a half in the Roy Williams era.
And just when it looked like they might break away – opening the second half with a 16-3 run, led by seven straight points from Tyler Zeller – “we almost threw it away,’’ said freshman Harrison Barnes.
Leading by as much as 41-26 on a Kendall Marshall bucket, then 45-32 a few minutes later on a Zeller layup, the Tar Heels committed turnovers on five straight possessions-- jumpstarting a 9-0 BC run that cut the lead to 45-41.
After Barnes made jump shot and each team went to the free throw line, Jackson made a 3-pointer with 1:12 left to cut UNC’s advantage to 48-46. Marshall’s shot in the lane wiggled out, and the Eagles took a timeout with 17.6 seconds left to brainstorm their last shot.
The plan, Jackson said: “Come off the ball screen and hopefully get a mismatch, get a kickback for an open guy or get a low pick.”
Eagles coach Jeff Donahue like the look Jackson got from the top of the 3-point arc. But Henson, guarding Jackson on a defensive switch, appeared to bother the shot just enough to help it roll off the side of the rim.
“His fingertips did hit my palm – and thank God for that, because it was that close,’’ Henson said. “ I thought it was going in. Thank goodness he missed it. Sometimes you get lucky, and we have been unlucky in the past.”
Jackson and forward Joe Trapani finished with 13 points apiece for the Eagles, who were out-rebounded 44-30.
Zeller led the Tar Heels with 16 points and nine rebounds; Marshall and Harrison Barnes each chipped in 10 points apiece.
Williams has said all season that his team has the potential to be really good defensively, thanks to the length of Henson and Zeller; the on-the-ball effectiveness of Dexter Strickland; and the potential for improvement from freshmen Reggie Bullock, Marshall and Barnes.
It appears to be getting there – although Williams wants to see more toughness in the form of taking care of the ball and closing out victories when his team has double-figure leads.
“I’m not going to say we’re at our full potential on defense,’’ Strickland said. “But … if everyone continues to contribute like we are, and even more, I don’t see anybody beating us.”