Representing the # 1 and # 9 seeds of the East bracket, the North Carolina Tar heels and the Providence Friars will meet in the second round on Saturday night. North Carolina is coming off an easy 16 point first round victory over the 16th seeded Florida Gulf Coast. Providence needed a late rally to edge USC 70-69 in their first round matchup. North Carolina has won their last 6 games overall including wins over tournament teams Virginia, Duke and Notre Dame. Providence has won 4 of their last 5 games overall including wins over Butler and Creighton but they fell to # 2 seeded Villanova 76-68 on March 11th.
North Carolina was led by senior forward Brice Johnson who shined on both sides of the ball in the victory over FGC. He scored 18 points on only 11 shots and had 7 rebounds and 3 assists. He also had a steal and 8 blocks while committing 0 turnovers. Point guard Marcus Paige also had a nice game with 10 points and 6 assists with only 1 turnover. They won the turnover battle as they were able to force 14 turnovers while only committing 7. If there was a negative in this game for North Carolina, it was they allowed FGC to shoot 60% from the field in the first half and they were out rebounded 43-41. They stepped up their defense in the second half as FGC missed 13 of their first 15 shots to begin the half.
Providence had 4 different players score in double figures led by sophomore forward Ben Bentil who scored 19 points and also grabbed 9 rebounds. Junior guard Kris Dunn scored 16 points while hitting 4 of his 5 three-point attempts to go along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Dunn had such a great year that he was voted as player of the year in the Big East conference. Rodney Bullock also scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but it was his layup with 1.5 seconds left that gave Providence the improbable victory. Providence was able to win the turnover battle by only committing 6 while forcing USC into 12. USC was up 7 points with 7 minutes remaining in the game but was only able to make 2 field goals the rest of the way. If there was a negative for Providence it is that they were outrebounded 35-31.
Providence has gone 19-14 against the spread this year including 8-5 as the underdog. North Carolina has gone 17-14-3 against the spread this year including 13-12-3 as the favorite. Carolina is also the better shooting team as they have made 47.9 percent of their field goals this season while Providence made 42.2 percent. Providence has now advanced past the first round for the first time since 1997 and but North Carolina is 32-1 in tournament games in their home state and this game is only 30 minutes from Chapel Hill so UNC will have the home court advantage.
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