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No. 17 Texas 69, No. 14 North Carolina 67: Matt Coleman ices Tar Heels to win Maui Invitational

Texas senior hits game-winner with 0.01 second left as Longhorns now 4-0 and cooking

As Texas’ 16-point lead started melting away in the second half, the Longhorns had to wonder what in the world is happening.

Kai Jones clanked an alley-oop dunk attempt off the rim.

Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) drives the ball to the basket past North Carolina guard R.J. Davis (4) and North Carolina guard Leaky Black (1) in the first half an NCAA college basketball game for the championship of the Maui Invitational, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Asheville, N.C. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Andrew Jones dribbled the ball off his foot.

The officials got whistle-happy, and the Horns got tentative on defense. Suddenly, 14th-ranked North Carolina had renewed life in the Maui Invitational championship. Still, Texas had one chance.

“We want to make sure we got the last shot,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said.

If Smart trusts anybody, it’s Matt Coleman III. On the final play Wednesday, Coleman leaned in, stepped back and fired up a shot that hit the front rim, bounced, hit the backboard and casually dropped home for the game winner, giving the 17th-ranked Longhorns a 69-67 victory over the Tar Heels.

Texas ex Javan Felix, who also once beat North Carolina with a game-winner in Smart’s first season, would’ve been proud.

“It was on line. I knew I didn’t leave it short,” Coleman said. “It just had to play with the rim a little bit, create some suspense for the fans.”

The Longhorns (4-0) won their first Maui Invitational championship. Smart said he walked into the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, N.C., and told the players “2020 will be on that banner for the rest of time” as long as this tournament keeps going.

This Texas team is just getting warmed up. Smart’s club fended off Davidson, blew past Indiana and then clipped North Carolina this week. Win this tournament and that usually signals “a team that’s on their way,” ESPN’s Bill Walton said between military, spiritual and Grateful Dead references.

Coleman had 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting, but as usual, this was a team affair. Courtney Ramey had 13 points, Kai Jones had 12 points and eight rebounds and Greg Brown (10 points) hit his first 3-pointer of the season after starting 0-for-12.

“I knew Greg would make a three today because he missed his first 10,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “So I knew we would cure his problem there.”

It’s the way Texas won these games that’ll snap heads across the Big 12 landscape. Terrific defense. Long and athletic big men. Aggressive guards. Role players like Brock Cunningham mixing it up. Royce Hamm Jr. holding his own defensively and getting five rebounds.

And to think, several guys will come back home knowing they can play better, like Jericho Sims and Gerald Liddell.

“We have a lot to learn from the 120 minutes of video from the last three days,” Smart said. “The exciting thing is that there’s not a guy on our team that can’t play better.”

Texas shouldn’t have lacked confidence going up against North Carolina. The Longhorns have always played the Tar Heels well. In fact, Texas has won nine of the last 10 matchups dating back to December 1995.

This particular game didn’t start too good. Texas opened 2-for-12 as the officials called tight and sometimes bewildering fouls.

With 10:27 left in the first half, Kai Jones grabbed a steal and the Horns went the other way. Ramey missed a layup, but Jones hustled down got the put-back and drew a foul.

Hamm got a steal, and Coleman hit a pull-up 3-pointer. North Carolina’s Caleb Love threw a bad pass, and here came Texas again. Another Coleman 3-pointer. Texas had a 12-0 run and everything was flowing. The Horns would eventually run up a 36-20 lead with 3:50 before the break.

But North Carolina (3-1) came out firing in the second half, going right at Texas’ frontcourt. The Heels started with a quick 6-0 run and made six of their first nine shots after the break.

“The first half, we came out really flat, just not playing hard, not competing,” North Carolina forward Armando Bacot said. “There’s a lot of things we could have done better, like make free throws and simple plays.”

North Carolina finally pulled even at 63-63 with 3:54 remaining. That’s when Kai Jones missed his alley-oop attempt, and Andrew Jones followed that with a turnover off his shoe. Garrison Brooks hit a jumper over Hamm, and the Heels went up by two.

Kai Jones answered with a 17-footer. In four games, he’s made 16 of 17 shots, the failed dunk attempt being the only misfire. But there was no mistaking the thunderous dunk he put down after North Carolina turned it over on an inbound play.

The Heels tied it up again with free throws, and then it was up to Coleman. The Heels called timeout with 25 seconds left, and Smart’s point guard knew what was coming next.

“I just went to the timeout with a little smirk on my face, because I was thinking in my head I was made for times like this,” Coleman said. “I wanted to win.”

The shot fell in with 0.01 second left, but Texas players were already celebrating. “My reaction was trying to figure out how much time was left,” Smart said. “Our guys were rolling all over the floor, but it wasn’t all the way done.”

If anything, this season is just getting started.