Pete Nance scored 28 points, Caleb Love added 23 and No. 1 North Carolina survived an unexpected test from Portland to beat the Pilots 89-81 in the opening round of Thursday’s Phil Knight Invitational.
It took the Tar Heels (5-0) a late 14-3 run to eventually break away from one of the tournament’s host schools.
Love wore them in the first half with 16 points and hit the 1,000-point mark in his career, becoming the 80th North Carolina player to reach that mark. North Carolina has the most 1,000 point scorers of any school in the country.
Nance picked up the doldrums after halftime with 20 points and achieved his career leading scorer last season while playing for Northwestern.
Moses Wood led Portland (4-3) by 21 points. The pilots only let their heels pull away in the closing minutes when Portland left the field cold. Portland had just one field goal in the last 4 minutes – Tyler Robertson hit a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left to reduce North Carolina’s lead to 84-81.
But that was the last chance for the Pilots, as RJ Davis hit a 17-footer for the Tar Heels with 26 seconds left to end the game. Davis finished with 13 points, Armando Bacot had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Leaky Black had 11 points.
Robertson, Portland’s top scorer, finished the game with 13 points after being scoreless in the first half. Alden Applewhite added 14 from the bench.
Portland took their biggest lead 64-59 when Applewhite scored with a nice backdoor cut with 11:30 left. North Carolina scored 10 of the next 13 points, but Wood’s baseline floater dragged the Pilots left at 69-69 with 7:30.
Robertson’s baseline jumper and another floater by Wood extended Portland’s lead to four, but the Tar Heels responded with their crucial run.
North Carolina: Portland became the fifth straight non-Power 5 conference team the Tar Heels faced to open the season. That will change on Friday with their semi-final matchup. North Carolina has just one game left against a non-Power 5 team.
Portland: It was a tremendous effort by the Pilots who faced North Carolina in the opening round of this tournament five years ago and lost 102-78. The pilots also played without start supervisor Mike Meadows due to injury.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels meet either Iowa State or Villanova in Friday’s semifinals.
Portland: The Pilots face either Iowa State or Villanova in a consolation game on Friday.
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