This Maui Invitational game was hardly the down-to-the-wire affair of the game that preceded it (Butler over Marquette), but it did feature a buzzer-beater of its own -- on UNC sophomore P.J. Hairston's three-quarter-court shot to end the first half ...
Turning point: The game, for all intents and purposes, was over within the first nine minutes. UNC opened the game with a 9-0 run, and then ahead 9-4, the Tar Heels went on a 17-2 run to take their first 20-point lead (26-6) with 12:20 left in the first half. The Tar Heels shot 46.8 percent overall for the game.
Why UNC won: Outside shooting. The No. 9 Tar Heels, who struggled from long distance during their first 2.5 games, picked up where they left off in the second half at Long Beach State -- connecting on 8 of 14 3-pointers in the first half at Lahaina Civic Center and 15-for-32 for the game. Junior guard Reggie Bullock (4-for-5 on 3-pointers) began the deluge with the first 3 of the game, Hairston (4-for-7 on 3s) went on a second-half barrage and redshirt junior Leslie McDonald (6-for-10 on 3s) added his own swishes throughout. It was the first time all three sharpshooters actually shot sharp in the same game this season, and UNC's 15 3s marked its most since it made 16 in a win against Maryland on Feb. 3, 2009.
Why MSU lost: Numbers. The undermanned Bulldogs shot 27.9 percent for the game, got out-rebounded by nine, and committed 22 turnovers. And the fact that they only had six scholarship players because of of junior guard Jalen Steele’s broken wrist and the suspension of forward Colin Borchert for violating team rules certainly didn’t help matters.
Star of the game: Choose a UNC wing. McDonald finished with a career-high 21 points, Hairston added 18 and Bullock recorded 16.
What it means for UNC: A fairly fresh team for the Tuesday semifinals. Coach Roy Williams knew he was going to have to play a lot of guys, considering this is a three-games-in-three-days tournament. But the early breakaway meant he could rest his main guys even longer -- and that could be important when facing a physical Butler team that won a down-to-the-wire thriller earlier Monday.
What it means for MSU: More growing pains. First-year coach Rick Ray is trying to build a strong program based on accountability and fundamentals -- but it’s got to be hard facing a top-10 team with so few healthy scholarship players at your disposal. Roquez Johnson led MSU with 12 points and Wendell Lewis added 10.
More observations: UNC sophomore forward Desmond Hubert was aggressive, scoring four of UNC’s first nine points and either changing or blocking multiple shots on the defensive end. For the first time this season, he not only started the first half, but the second half, as well. … With all of the injuries to his team this season, MSU’s Ray had to cringe when he saw Johnson fall to the ground after getting elbowed in the chin by UNC forward James Michael McAdoo. The inadvertent elbow earned McAdoo a flagrant foul.
What’s next: UNC will face Butler -- which beat Marquette on a running-one-handed, falling 3-point heave at the buzzer by Rotnei Clarke -- at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in a semi-final game. Mississippi State plays Marquette at 2:30 p.m.