Despite foul trouble for both of the Huskies’ big men and a 26-point effort from Tar Heels guard RJ Davis, UConn used its massive rebounding advantage to secure the victory. The Huskies (8-1) outrebounded North Carolina 43-33 on the glass on the night as bigs Donovan Clingan and Samson Johnson kept the likes of Armando Bacot and Harrison Ingram in check.
UNC jumped out to an early start and led 8-7 less than four minutes in, but UConn took the lead on a Clingan layup and never looked back. Thanks to a big bounce back from Cam Spencer and continued great play from Tristen Newton, the Huskies stretched their lead to as much as seven before the Tar Heels punched back with a 7-0 run to make it 23-23.
With the game tied, UConn immediately answered with a jumper from Alex Karaban, and Newton added four more points to go up seven again. The frontcourt took a major blow as Clingan and Johnson each racked up two fouls with 4:05 to play, allowing the Tar Heels to hang around. Despite the issues in the frontcourt, the Huskies used five-straight points from Spencer, then five more in a row from Hassan Diarra gave the Huskies its first double-digit lead with 1:40 left in the first half.
Spencer would finish the first half with 16 points, an encouraging sign after his worst performance as a Husky against Kansas. Newton, fresh off his 31-point performance against the Jayhawks, added 10 points in the first half as UConn went into the locker room
Twenty-six seconds into the second half, Clingan picked up his third personal foul, requiring Johnson to come back in. Despite missing their star big man, the Huskies ripped off an 8-0 run to grow the lead to 11. Threes from Spencer and Solo Ball would then stretch the lead to as much as 13.
While UNC would get as close as five points multiple times, UConn always had an answer, whether it be from Spencer, Newton, Alex Karaban or Ball, who broke out for a career-high 13 points on 3-6 shooting from three.
The Huskies would put the game away with an 8-0 run with 5:30 left to play, with Spencer left alone to put back a rebound and Karaban and Clingan adding easy buckets in the paint to grow the lead to 17, the largest of the night. Despite some issues with the Tar Heels’ full court pressure, UConn held on for the 11-point victory, their first-ever over North Carolina and their first victory in the Jimmy V Classic.
Spencer led the Huskies with 23 points on the night, and Karaban (18 points), Newton (14) and Ball joined him in double figures. The Rutgers transfer also added seven rebounds and six assists with zero turnovers. Stephon Castle scored three points and added four rebounds in 11 minutes, his first game action since Nov. 11 against Stonehill.
Up next, UConn returns to Gampel Pavilion to take on Arkansas Pine Bluff on Saturday. The Golden Lions lost to Gonzaga, who the Huskies will play on Dec. 15, 111-71 in Spokane earlier Tuesday night. Tip off between Arkansas Pine Bluff and UConn is set for 12:00 p.m.