Portland men's basketball takes No. 1 UNC down to the wire
The Phil Knight Invitational started off with a bang Thursday, Nov. 24, thanks to the home team in Portland men's basketball.
The Pilots pushed No. 1 North Carolina to the final buzzer, falling 89-81 but not without having a lead as late as 75-73 in the final five minutes of the game.
Behind 21 points from Moses Wood and a double team defense on UNC's senior forward Armando Bacot resulted in the Pilots giving a shock to the Tar Heels and the basketball world.
"We did the right things during the right moments and we just didn't get a couple rebounds there in the second half and some things went not our way," Portland head coach Shantay Legans said. "But I did like the fight in the team tonight. It showed we can play with almost anybody in the country and you can hang your hat on that."
Portland started slow shooting as UNC went up early thanks to Caleb Love knocking down some shots and causing havoc on defense.
But as the first half wore on, Moses Wood started to connect from deep along with Portland's other shooters in Tyler Robertson and Alden Applewhite.
The Pilots quickly came back and led 23-22 right under the 10 minute mark in the first half to spark the potential upset.
"We can play with anybody … it doesn't matter who it is," Wood said of the feeling on the sideline. "Coming into halftime, we were like, 'We can win this game.'"
Portland only trailed 40-38 going into the break behind 13 first half points from Wood on his 4 for 5 shooting from deep.
Coming out of the break, Kristian Sjolund hit his first 3-pointer of the game at the top of the key off the glass to put Portland up 41-40 and drive home what Wood said the team was feeling at halftime: That the Pilots could do this.
"They have seven or eight of their returning players, they have tremendous experience, they know how to play and they play well together, so no," UNC head coach Hubert Davis said when asked if he was surprised by Portland.
Coming into the game, UNC had struggled shooting the ball, so Portland took its chances by double-teaming Bacot, and it worked well deep into the second half as he finished with only 11 points after averaging over 21 in the Tar Heels first four games.
Bacot finished with 13 total rebounds however, six coming on offense which led to some much needed buckets for UNC down the stretch.
"He's probably the best rebounder in the country, offensively and defensively," Legans said of Bacot. "We thought if we would give him angles to baskets, and he does a great job sealing and being big, we'd struggle. But these guys are pretty smart on my team and so we did a good job."
Legans went on to say how that left some shooters open, including Pete Nance, who went off for a career high 28 points behind five made 3-pointers.
Combine Nance with Love and the Tar Heels were able to hit the shots to stay in it despite Portland doing the same on its end.
The Pilots never backed down still and led as late as 75-73 with 4:32 to go. However, Leaky Black nailed a corner 3-pointer for the Tar Heels to go up 76-75 and Portland couldn't quite grab it back.
Love finished with 23 points to go alongside Nance as the two combined to put UNC over the top while Bacot's 13 boards helped the Tar Heels win the battle on the glass 39-23.
Despite the monumental challenge in front of him, Thursday and from the moment Legans took the Portland job, it's been nothing but up for the Pilots program.
"It's just been special riding each with him," Tyler Robertson said of Legans, who he's played with his entire college career that started at Eastern Washington. "We came last year and wanted to make an emphasis on just competing and changing the culture at University of Portland basketball. We did that, people were patting us on the back, but we were never going to be satisfied being sixth in our conference.
"This year, we're coming in hungry and going into each and every game knowing that we can compete, we can play with these best teams in the country."
The weekend is just getting started for Portland who will play more big time programs, starting with the loser between Iowa State and Villanova.
After throwing a pretty strong first punch, Legans is ready to see what his team can accomplish next when they take the floor at noon Friday in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"They'll be able to play against another top team in the country, which is fun," Legans said. "You want to compete against the best and see where you're at.
"If we can stack good days and good games, I think we'll beat a lot of these teams that we're supposed to be playing."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.