By AARON BEARD, AP News.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — It wasn’t long after Texas arrived for the relocated Maui Invitational that coach Shaka Smart pointed out the banners hanging above the court to recognize the tournament’s past champions.
“We said: ‘There’s no Texas on these banners,’” Smart said.
There will be now, thanks to Matt Coleman III’s clock-beating shot and a defensive effort that carried the 17th-ranked Longhorns to their first title.
Coleman hit a stepback jumper with 0.1 seconds left to help Texas beat No. 14 North Carolina 69-67 in Wednesday’s final, capping a wild finish that saw the Longhorns regroup after blowing a 16-point lead and falling behind late.
Coleman finished with 22 points and was the most valuable player for the Longhorns (4-0), securing the program’s first Maui title in their fifth appearance.
The senior led the offense all day long, making 9 of 16 shots with three 3-pointers. And he was ready for his clutch moment, saying he even smirked during the preceding timeout with a single thought: “I was just made for times like this.”
Coleman dribbled down the clock against UNC’s RJ Davis and made his move. The lefty drove to the foul line, and then sprung back to launch a soft jumper over Davis’ outstretched arm from near the right elbow.
The ball bounced the rim, then the backboard, then through the net.
“Soft touch, baby,” Coleman said.
“It was on line. I knew I didn’t leave it short. It just had to play with the rim a little bit, create some suspense for the fans — that’s all,” Coleman continued with a chuckle.
The Tar Heels (3-1) could only heave the ball the length of the court for a miracle that never materialized.
“RJ tried to do a good job and Matt hit a tough shot,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “If we had had a little more experienced team, we would have probably tried to double-team. … But it’s what it was, and you’ve got to congratulate Matt for making a shot.”
Texas: The Longhorns won two games in three days that came down to the final seconds, first with Courtney Ramey hitting a driving shot with 20 seconds left and then surviving two final-possession 3-pointers to edge Davidson in Monday’s first round. They also locked down Indiana by holding the Hoosiers to 44 points — their lowest output since January 2010 — before spending more than a half frustrating the Tar Heels. Then, after squandering their lead, the Longhorns held on to beat UNC for the ninth time in 10 meetings. They ended up holding their last two Maui opponents to a combined 33.7% shooting.
“We clearly were a little fatigued,” Smart said. “We weren’t necessarily clicking on all cylinders. … But if you want to be a good team, you got to find ways to win on days like that. And our guys hung in there and did that.”
UNC: The Tar Heels dug themselves a huge hole in this one, then climbed back after having just four second-half turnovers and doing a better job of getting the ball inside. But there were no shortage of missed opportunities. That included 10 first-half turnovers, missing six of seven shots down the stretch and making just 18 of 32 free throws.
“In the second half (Williams) just told us to go out there and fight and just be competitors and we did it,” sophomore big man Armando Bacot said, “but unfortunately we just lost on a last-second shot.”
UNC’s Garrison Brooks, the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, finished with 18 points and seven rebounds despite playing through an ankle injury that sent him to the locker room at least twice.
BIG LEAD, BIG COMEBACK
Texas used a 26-5 run to turn a five-point deficit into a 36-20 lead on Greg Brown’s free throws with 3:50 left in the first half. But the Tar Heels roared out of halftime with five straight scoring possessions. They clawed to within one five different times before finally tying it on a free throw from Caleb Love with 3:54 left and then taking their first post-halftime lead on Brooks’ contested turnaround with 2:35 to go.
Texas reserve Kai Jones had a few clutch moments of his own, too.
He had 12 points, answering Brooks’ score with a tying jumper and then scoring on a transition dunk with 41.2 seconds remaining that pushed Texas to a 67-65 lead. UNC’s Leaky Black answered with two free throws with 25.6 seconds left, setting up Coleman’s winner.
The tournament was played in the North Carolina mountains instead of its traditional Hawaii setting due to the coronavirus pandemic. That gave the Tar Heels three games in Williams’ hometown with fan cutouts in the stands and crowd noise pumped in.
Texas: The Longhorns host No. 12 Villanova on Sunday in the Big 12-Big East Battle.
UNC: The Tar Heels visit third-ranked Iowa on Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
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