UNCASVILLE, Connecticut — Louisville came into Sunday's game with No. 24 North Carolina riding high on a 21-game winning streak.
Coach Rick Pitino says he hopes the defending national champions leave with a bit of humility after a 93-84 loss to the Tar Heels in the final of the Hall of Fame Tipoff tournament.
"I think this loss is really good for us tonight," he said. "I think that last year we were one of the most humble teams. To win 16 in a row you have to have great humility, not get stuck on yourselves. And this type of defense, it was a lack of humility."
It was also a lot of Marcus Paige. The UNC guard scored 32 points, putting up a career high for the second straight day in the tournament. He had 26 Saturday in a win over Richmond.
"We just wanted to come here and give better effort. We had a bad taste in our mouth, cause we had to watch the whole film of the Belmont game," Paige said. "We wanted to come here with the mindset that we can change our season and get back in the right mind frame that we're one of the best teams in the country if we play together and hard."
It was a three-point game with just over 13 minutes left when Louisville's Montrezl Harrell picked up his fourth foul. North Carolina scored the next eight points.
Harrell fouled out driving to the basket with 7 ½ minutes left, exiting the game with just five points and 10 rebounds. With the sophomore star out of the game, North Carolina pushed the lead to 16 points at 83-67, outmuscling the Cardinals under the basket.
"They weren't good fouls, especially that fifth one" said Pitino. "You give it to people open or you go around them, you don't try to pull a Michael Jorden at that point."
Harrell was coming off the first double-double of his career, a 14 point, 12 rebound effort in a 71-57 victory over Fairfield in the semifinals.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore from Tarboro North Carolina grew up idolizing Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough, and was looking forward to playing against the Tar Heels, who did not heavily recruit him.
"I'm a local kid from that area and they didn't offer me," he said. "You can't dwell on things like that. You've got to move on.
The teams combined for 50 fouls and that affected Louisville's press, forcing the Cardinals to play further off their men.
North Carolina also thwarted Louisville's transition game, getting several easy baskets by keeping a big man back near half court.
"When I got my first outlet pass I got the sense they weren't paying attention to it," Meeks said.
Paige hit 9 of his 12 shots from the floor and was 11 of 11 from the foul line.
"I'm trying to stay in attack mode the entire time," he said. "That makes our team harder to guard and frees up the big guys. I'm one of the leaders on this team so I feel the need to provide some outside scoring. I'm the only one who attempts 3-pointers pretty much."
But it was the Russ Smith show early, as he had 22 points in the first half.
He and Jones were a combined 10 of 19 from the floor before intermission, while the rest of the Cardinals hit just three of 13 shots.
Both teams started hot, making a combined 10 of the first 12 shots taken from the floor. A pair of 3-pointers from Smith and one from Jones helped Louisville to an early 19-10 lead.
Brice Johnson's block of a Harrell dunk attempt brought the surprisingly partisan UNC crowd into the game. His rebound dunk and foul shot cut the Louisville lead to 33-31, but Smith answered with his fourth 3-pointer of the half.
The Tar Heels scored the next six, taking the lead on a pair of free throws by Paige at 37-36.
The teams went back and forth from there before Paige buried a long 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to tie the score at 44.
"I think they made a good change in the second half," Jones said. "They clogged the lane and played that high zone so me and Russ couldn't penetrate. That's something we have to learn. I don't think we passed the ball as well was we have all year."
Louisville, which was playing its first games away from home during this tournament, had not lost since last Feb. 9 when it dropped a five-overtime affair to Notre Dame.