North Carolina beats Tom Izzo, Michigan State in March Madness again to reach Sweet 16


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Once again, North Carolina is moving on in the NCAA Tournament at the expense of Michigan State and Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo.

RJ Davis scored 20 points to help UNC beat the Spartans 85-69 on Saturday, pushing the Tar Heels to the Sweet 16 while keeping them unbeaten in March Madness against Izzo’s teams in a series going back 26 years.

Harrison Ingram made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points for the West Region’s top seed, which continued its NCAA success in its home state. The Tar Heels (29-7) improved to 5-0 in the tournament against Izzo, including victories in the 2005 Final Four and 2009 title game.

And they move on to the regional semifinals in Los Angeles, where they will face either Grand Canyon or Alabama on Thursday night.

It started with answering the Spartans’ game-opening punch that put the Tar Heels in a 12-point hole. The response — continuing coach Hubert Davis’ season-long message — was a game-defining change. The Tar Heels erased the Spartans’ lead and answered every push that followed.

“We came into the huddle and said, ‘Look, we can’t talk about any basketball stuff until we join the fight,'” Hubert Davis said. “Once that started, the level of play in terms of the energy and effort, the attention to detail rose. Then that’s when things started to change.”

UNC ran off 17 straight points during a 23-3 run over the last eight minutes of the first half. And that secured the program’s largest comeback in March Madness since rallying from 16 down to beat Southern California in the 2007 Sweet 16.

“I think being able to continue to trust each other, our ability to execute, to continually raise the level of energy,” said UNC’s Cormac Ryan, who had 14 points. “That starts with guys coming in and making individual effort and energy plays, and that happened all across the board all night.”

UNC fifth-year post Armando Bacot (18 points) was critical, getting inside to score, draw fouls or kick out against oncoming double teams. Ingram was on the receiving end of some of those, hitting 5 of 7 3-pointers to go with seven rebounds.

Tyson Walker scored 24 points for the ninth-seeded Spartans (20-15), who were playing in front of a blue-clad crowd about a 2 1/2-hour drive from UNC’s Chapel Hill campus.

Izzo had no explanation when asked Friday about the lack of postseason success against UNC, a blip on a resume featuring 26 straight trips to March Madness, eight Final Fours and the 2000 national title. This one ended the same as the previous matchups and was the third in the Tar Heels’ home state.

“I’ll just say hats off to Carolina and Hubert and their team, but I’m not going to hang my head because I don’t believe it was a 16-point loss,” Izzo said. “So many ebbs and flows that were monstrous in that game.”

To Izzo’s point, one of Ingram’s 3s seemed destined to miss when it caught iron, only to somehow take a soft lap all the way around the rim and drop through the net — sending Ingram screaming toward the bench and giving UNC a 69-57 lead with 6:18 left.

“I thought it was going in because I felt the rim was huge,” Ingram said. “I was jumping up and down, praying to God it went in.”

That came minutes after RJ Davis had banked in a straightaway 3 while trying to lose a defender, a moment that had the first-team AP All-American looking to the rafters in disbelief.

By then, the Spartans were already chasing.

Michigan State carried the action early behind a heater of a start with Walker scoring 11 points in the first 10 1/2 minutes. And when Malik Hall scored on a pivot spin against Jae’Lyn Withers inside, the Spartans led 28-17 at the 8:08 mark. That’s when the Tar Heels matched the Spartans’ edge.

Ingram hit a 3 to start the 17-0 burst that included multiple baskets and free throws from Bacot. Ryan nailed another 3 from the corner in a side-reversing sequence that started inside with Bacot, while Ingram hit another that pushed the Tar Heels to a 40-31 lead at the break.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: It was a bumpy season for a team that opened the season ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 but was unranked before the end of November and remained that way the rest of the year. The Spartans had wins against NCAA 3-seeds Illinois and Baylor, but they didn’t have better than a three-game winning streak after the start of 2024 and had lost five of seven entering March Madness. They beat eighth-seeded Mississippi State on Thursday, but — in a repeat of their season-long inconsistency — couldn’t sustain their edge for 40 minutes.

“It made it frustrating because I kept saying to myself I know this team has enough,” Izzo said. “You know what, I’ll leave today believing I’m right. I really think we have enough that we could have made a little run. Yeah, we would have had to get them past a mountain, but we had them down. … We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

UNC: The Tar Heels advanced by beating 16th-seeded Wagner with an easy dominance in the paint against an undersized team. They had a tougher fight in this one but improved to 36-2 in NCAA games in North Carolina, including 14-1 in Charlotte, the state’s largest city.

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels learn their opponent Sunday. UNC owns an 8-5 record against the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide and has never met the 12th-seeded Antelopes.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness



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