AUSTIN (AP) — The ball bounced right to Javan Felix for an easy catch, step, shoot and swish.READ MORE: Gardening 101: Seed Bombs
And a win. A really big one for Texas and new coach Shaka Smart.
The senior guard’s uncontested jumper at the buzzer sent the Longhorns to a wild 84-82 victory over No. 3 North Carolina, giving Smart a signature moment a month into his tenure at Texas.
“I just had a free walk-up to the ball,” Felix said. “I knew I hit it.”
Felix was left unguarded as players from both teams watched Isaiah Taylor’s 3-point attempt in the final seconds bounce off the rim. The ball dropped straight to Felix, who calmly put it in. After a few minutes of reviewing replay video, the game officials ruled the basket good.
Felix finished with 25 points for Texas (6-3) and made five 3-pointers. Marcus Paige scored 20 to lead the Tar Heels (7-2), who started the season No. 1.
For Smart, the game was a chance to unveil the potential of a Texas program that enjoyed many winning seasons under Rick Barnes but has mostly struggled in the postseason for most of the last decade.
Texas fired Barnes after another NCAA tournament early-round exit last year to bring in Smart, whose swashbuckling “havoc” style of up-tempo, pressure basketball had carried Virginia Commonwealth to a Final Four and built his reputation as one of the top young coaches in the country.
But Smart’s start at Texas has been slow. Long road trips to China and the Bahamas before Thanksgiving led to three losses in the first five games and left Smart questioning his players’ confidence.
“There has been some growing pains, some transition pains,” Smart said. “It validates for those guys the work they’ve put in.”
Texas showed no fear of the highly ranked Tar Heels from the start, fighting back from early deficits behind Felix and the big plays of freshmen Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach. The Longhorns also had a huge 20-4 advantage in offensive rebounding, leading to 21 second-chance points.
The game came down to a basket-for-basket blur in the final minute. Taylor scored 18 points and Davis scored 16, including a crowd-energizer, buzzer-beating bank shot to close the first half.
Cam Ridley scored 12 for Texas. His layup and free throw put the Longhorns ahead 79-76 with 2 minutes left.
The Tar Heels tied it twice in the final minute.
Justin Jackson scored 15 for North Carolina and Isaiah Hicks each scored 14 for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams noted the Longhorns’ dominant offensive rebounding, none bigger than the final play.READ MORE: Anna Police Investigating Crash That Killed 22-Year-Old Man
“The last four points were offensive rebounds that their guards got,” Williams said. “The last one, it missed badly and so it bounces out long. Still, we should have had somebody there. Five guys are supposed to box out five guys – that’s the bottom line.”
Hicks said Felix was unguarded because Paige got knocked out of the play.
“All I know is they were coming down, they shot it, somebody hit Marcus and he flew out of bounds. He (Felix) was just open,” Hicks said.
North Carolina: Paige made three 3-pointers to set the school record. His last, with 6 minutes to play, passed Shammond Williams, who had 293.
Texas: Made 12 3-pointers, giving the Longhorns 27 in the last two games. Davis made four against the Tar Heels.
Texas players had vented frustration over small home crowds early this season but the Tar Heels drew a big one with an announced sellout of about 16,500 at the Erwin Center.
“We had a great fan showing today. If we get this every game, it gives us a better chance of winning. We’re a confident team,” Taylor said.
Felix has had some big moments against the Tar Heels. He had a big role in Texas beating North Carolina in 2013, with nine points in the key late run of an 86-83 win.
“He has an old-man YMCA game and that’s not intended to be a cut toward him,” Williams said. “He’s old school, sneaky, glides along.”
North Carolina hosts Tulane on Wednesday.
Texas hosts Appalachian State on Tuesday.MORE NEWS: Texas Joins Oklahoma's Effort To Overturn McGirt
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