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Tar Heels assert themselves after half to bounce FGCU

North Carolina guard Joel Berry II tries to work around Florida Gulf Coast forward Kevin Mickle during the first half. Berry has 14 points, one of five Tar Heels players in double figures as the East Region’s top seed blows open a tight game early in the second half.

Associated Press

North Carolina guard Joel Berry II tries to work around Florida Gulf Coast forward Kevin Mickle during the first half. Berry has 14 points, one of five Tar Heels players in double figures as the East Region’s top seed blows open a tight game early in the second half.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Brice Johnson had 18 points and No. 1 seed North Carolina needed an overwhelming second-half start to put away 16th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast 83-67 in Thursday's first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Isaiah Hicks added 12 points off the bench for the Tar Heels (29-6), who led by just a point after a frustration-filled opening half in which the Eagles stayed right with the East Region's top seed. But UNC dominated the first 10 minutes of the second half, running off a 20-3 burst by controlling the boards and locking down defensively to build a 20-point lead.

That helped the Tar Heels avoid the unwanted history of being the first top seed to lose to a 16 in tournament history.

Florida Gulf Coast already owned a bit of underdog history, with its "Dunk City" bunch the first 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16, in 2013.

This would've topped that considering the game was in UNC's home state, where the Tar Heels haven't lost an NCAA game in 37 years. But by the end, this one looked a lot like those other 1-vs.-16 matchups, with the Tar Heels just too big, deep and athletic for the Atlantic Sun champions.

Christian Terrell had 15 points for Florida Gulf Coast, which shot 60 percent in the first half but went 2-of-15 to open the second.

At halftime, Florida Gulf Coast trailed just 41-40 to cause a mild wave of concern through the home-state crowd of blue-clad fans filling a rival school's arena.

But the Tar Heels started the second half with a 3-pointer from Marcus Paige, followed by a transition layup from Joel Berry II to restore a cushion. Minutes later, Johnson outfought Eagles defenders for a rebound and scored a stickback while being fouled for a three-point play that pushed UNC's lead to eight.

By the time Berry grabbed a loose ball and scored while being fouled for his own three-point play, the Tar Heels led 57-45 with 15:07 left. The margin did not slip below double digits again.

INDIANA 99, CHATTANOOGA 74: Yogi Ferrell had 20 points and a season-high 10 assists, O.G. Anunoby scored 14 and the fifth-seeded Hoosiers took charge of their NCAA Tournament opener in Des Moines, Iowa.

Thomas Bryant had 13 points and Troy Williams 12 points and eight rebounds for Indiana (26-7), whose high-powered offense was in prime form. The Hoosiers shot 37-of-57 from the floor for 64.9 percent. Anunoby, a long-armed freshman forward, was 6-of-7 with a highlight-reel array of 3-pointers and dunks.

Duke Ethridge had 14 points and Justin Tuoyo 12 for the No. 12 seed Mocs, whose stellar first season under coach Matt McCall came to a screeching end.

The Hoosiers dodged the 5-12 danger that eliminated Baylor and Big Ten rival Purdue and did their part to set up a possible second-round matchup of storied programs. Indiana will play the Stony Brook-Kentucky winner Saturday.

Ferrell, the fiery point guard who is generously listed at 6 feet, has never advanced past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament and is aiming to extend an impeccable college career by another week or two.

Tar Heels assert themselves after half to bounce FGCU 03/17/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2016 11:30pm]
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