- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

— CHAPEL HILL, N.C. | Tyrese Rice came through with another big game against North Carolina, one that ended all the talk of a perfect season for the top-ranked Tar Heels.

Rice scored 25 points and Rakim Sanders added 22 to help Boston College stun North Carolina 85-78 on Sunday, likely ending the Tar Heels’ run atop the polls with a surprisingly one-sided road victory.

Reggie Jackson had 17 points - including seven in the decisive second-half run - for the Eagles (13-2, 1-0 ACC), who led by six points at halftime and pushed the lead to as many as 15 before holding off a frantic rally.

It started with Rice, who scored 46 points in the teams’ late-season meeting last year and again was a matchup problem at the point for North Carolina (13-1, 0-1) all game. But the Eagles had a lot more, namely a physical defense and an unwavering focus that kept them from getting too caught up in the moment as they inched closer to an upset that few could have imagined.

This was, after all, a team picked in the preseason to finish 11th in the 12-team ACC. And the Tar Heels were the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation, with five starters back from a Final Four squad that won a school-record 36 games - a team that heard questions as recently as Friday about whether it could go unbeaten this year.

So much for all that.

“We just met the challenge,” Rice said. “I felt like they hadn’t been challenged all year. Every team that they’ve played against, they just walked right through them. You look at people playing defense against them, they stay back; people drive and they’re standing straight up and not trying to contest shots. I can’t watch a tape if everybody’s playing like that.

“We wanted to challenge them to see if they could step up and play as hard as we were going to play.”

North Carolina had been every bit as dominant as predicted, winning its first 13 games by an average of 26 points and breaking a school record for most consecutive double-digit wins set by the 1993 NCAA championship team. Its closest final margin was 15 points, its smallest halftime lead was eight and it hadn’t trailed in a game later than the 7:08 mark of the first half.

The Tar Heels sounded eager to see how they would handle a tougher game. Most expected that would come with a trip to unbeaten and sixth-ranked Wake Forest next weekend. Instead, North Carolina finds itself at the bottom of the conference standings to start its run for a third straight league title.

“We never sat in the locker room and said, ‘Let’s go straight undefeated,’” said Tyler Hansbrough, who had 21 points to lead North Carolina. “That was more people outside the locker room talking about that. Now you can put that to rest and bring us back down to reality, and we can all focus on what we need to do better instead of all this hype.”

In the last meeting, North Carolina rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit for a 90-80 victory with Rice the only BC player to reach double figures. There would be no blown lead this time, just the sight of the Eagles’ bench spilling onto the court in celebration as the horn sounded.

“We had to have the discipline in order to execute what it is we needed to do,” Boston College coach Al Skinner said. “There were going to be breakdowns, and there were, but guys were able to refocus and not compound those mistakes.”

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