WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Jeff Bzdelik has spent the past three-plus seasons doing a slow-but-steady building job at Wake Forest. His Demon Deacons look like they're growing up a bit with another win against a ranked opponent -- not to mention Bzdelik's first against Roy Williams and North Carolina.
Travis McKie scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half to help the Demon Deacons beat the 19th-ranked Tar Heels 73-67 on Sunday in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
Codi Miller-McIntyre added 12 points for the Demon Deacons (11-3, 1-0), who took control with a 15-2 run midway through the second half to build a double-digit lead then hung on when the Tar Heels made a late rally.
Wake Forest hadn't beaten UNC (10-4, 0-1) since 2010, when Dino Gaudio was coach and the Tar Heels were struggling their way to the NIT. It was also the Demon Deacons' first home win against the Tar Heels since 2009, a moment students and fans savored by running to midcourt to celebrate at the final horn.
"Obviously we understand the importance that it means to so many people," said Bzdelik, now in his fourth year. "But from a basketball standpoint, it shows everyone that we are getting better."
It marked the second straight season the Demon Deacons have beaten a ranked league opponent here. It was NC State and eventual ACC champion Miami last year.
This time, it was finding a way to win despite getting manhandled on the boards. UNC finished with a 53-34 rebounding advantage and a 24-8 edge on the offensive glass, though the Tar Heels had just 17 second-chance points to show for all those extra chances.
"We got outrebounded by 30, we gave up 10 dunks ... but we won," McKie said with a laugh. "The stat sheet is not pretty but somehow we won. I think we just stayed together."
Wake Forest led 53-40 with about 10 minutes left at the end of its big run, only to see North Carolina make a late push to cut the deficit to 64-61 with about 2 minutes left.
The Tar Heels had a chance to get closer, but J.P. Tokoto missed a short shot after a backcourt steal that could have cut Wake Forest's lead to one. Madison Jones grabbed the rebound in a scramble and the Demon Deacons pushed it ahead to McKie, who hit a layup while drawing a foul for a three-point play that made it 67-61 with 1:03 left.
UNC never got the margin back to a single-possession game again, with Wake Forest -- one of the nation's worst free-throw shooting teams -- going 6-for-6 in the final 49.4 seconds to seal the win.
"It was kind of frustrating a little bit," Miller-McIntyre said of UNC's rally. But because we're so much more of a team now and each game we're growing more as a team, we have faith in each other and understand ... everybody's going to make a run, especially a team like North Carolina. So it's just we had to be patient, dig in deep and that's what we did."
This one ended up fitting in with the Tar Heels' wildly unpredictable ways. They have beaten highly ranked Michigan State, Kentucky and reigning national champion Louisville, but have also lost to Belmont, UAB and Texas. Now they have a fourth loss against an unranked opponent.
When asked whether his team played with more intensity to start conference play, Williams was blunt.
"No," the Hall of Fame coach said. "God almighty, not at all. Not at all."
But UNC leading scorer Marcus Paige finished with just eight points on 3-for-12 shooting, the first time he has failed to score in double figures this season. He and Leslie McDonald, UNC's only other reliable outside shooter with the loss of P.J. Hairston due to NCAA violations, missed 13 of 15 shots from behind the arc.
Paige picked up his fifth foul by reaching in when Arnaud William Adala Moto seized an offensive rebound off Miller-McIntyre's missed free throw with 49.4 seconds left.
"You have those nights, I guess, as shooters," Paige said of the outside shooting struggles. "They weren't doing anything out of the ordinary. They weren't switching. They were just fighting through the screens and playing solid defense."
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