Texas coach Rick Barnes spent the first few games of the season pressing Cory Joseph to be more assertive and to keep looking for his shot.
The freshman is obviously listening. With the game on the line against North Carolina, he wasn’t going to give the ball to anyone else.
Joseph hit a turnaround jumper over Dexter Strickland with 1.4 seconds left to help the 22nd-ranked Longhorns beat the Tar Heels 78-76 on Saturday, giving them their third straight win.
Joseph had a season-high 21 points for the Longhorns (9-2), while Jordan Hamilton had a team-high 24 points. The Longhorns trailed for most of the second half before rallying in the final three minutes against the Tar Heels (7-4), who were playing in front of an in-state crowd that fell silent shortly after Joseph’s basket.
”I thought our guys were really tough in the last four minutes,” Barnes said. ”We had a lot of different guys step up and do some things, but I just told the team that from top to bottom, this is as good of a team win as we’ve had in a long, long time.”
Joseph’s shot offered a measure of late-game redemption after he fell short in a similar situation almost exactly a month ago. With his team trailing Pittsburgh by two in the final seconds of the 2K Sports Classic championship game, Joseph drove the baseline and could only manage an off-balance heave that had no chance of going in to seal the Panthers’ 68-66 win.
This time, he knocked down the shot, even though Barnes wanted Joseph to drive to the basket and draw a foul.
After Harrison Barnes had hit a tying three-pointer with 12.7 seconds left, Joseph drove to the top of the key against Strickland and pump-faked to get the sophomore airborne. Then he spun to his right and lofted a shot that dropped cleanly through the net and sent the Texas bench into celebration.
”Going back to the Pittsburgh game, I felt like I rushed it,” Joseph said. ”I had to … take my time and try to get to the free-throw line and just pull up.”
Senior Gary Johnson was having flashbacks to the Pitt game, too.
”I was hoping he took a good shot and had a good look at it,” Johnson said. ”I still don’t think it was a good look, but it was a good shot.”
Strickland could only credit Joseph for making a tough shot.
”I could’ve did a better job of not going for the first shot and the pump fake, and staying down and contesting the shot even better,” Strickland said. ”But it was a tough shot, he’s a great player and he got a bucket.”
Still, the Tar Heels had a chance to answer. They inbounded the ball to halfcourt and called a timeout to set up a play, but Kendall Marshall managed only a desperation three that hit all backboard as the horn sounded.
Strickland matched his career-high with 18 points for North Carolina, while Barnes had 16 points. Tyler Zeller, the team’s leading scorer, had 14.
It was a good win for the Longhorns as they enter a tough stretch of nonconference games. Next up is a trip to No. 14 Michigan State on Wednesday followed by a home game against No. 4 Connecticut three games later before opening Big 12 Conference play against Texas Tech.
As for the Tar Heels, they fell just short in adding another marquee victory to their resume. They edged Kentucky two weeks ago at home, but had played just two games since during exams and couldn’t quite pull this one out when things got tight late.
Texas led by 10 points in the first half before North Carolina finally stood up to the Longhorns’ physical play inside and kept them off the offensive boards. North Carolina rallied to take a 33-32 halftime lead, then led by as many as seven points three times to charge up the blue-clad crowd before seeing it slip away.
Texas shot 53 percent in the second half to win the fourth straight meeting in the series.
Tristan Thompson’s dunk over Zeller gave Texas a 74-73 lead with 45.4 seconds to play. Then, after Zeller missed a hook shot on a good look with about 30 seconds left, J’Covan Brown hit two free throws to push the margin to three. Barnes answered with a confident catch-and-shoot three over Dogus Balbay from the left wing to tie it, only to see Joseph top him on the next possession.
”We are not a very confident team right now,” coach Roy Williams said. ”We are a very ticked off team right now. We had some chances.”