CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Holy Cross went from scoring 122 points with a 3-point shooting flurry in one game to struggling to make much of anything in the next.
The Crusaders shot just 29 percent in Friday night's 62-54 loss to No. 12 North Carolina in the Hall of Fame Tipoff, a cold-shooting performance that prevented them from pressing the Tar Heels for a possible upset.
"When you're trying to keep those guys off the glass and out of the lane as big and strong and athletic as they are, sometimes that wears on your legs," Holy Cross coach Milan Brown said. "I think just their overall athleticism and strength kind of wore us down for how hard we had to compete on the other end just to make them shoot a contested shot."
It was a significant drop for the Crusaders after their 122-118 double-overtime win against Sacred Heart on Wednesday night. They shot 47 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and got a combined 61 points from Cullen Hamilton and Dave Dudzinski.
Against UNC, they hit just 15 field goals — fewer than half of the previous game — and missed 17 of 22 3-point tries but hung tough to keep the Tar Heels from running away with it.
Even so, Holy Cross led 32-29 on Justin Burrell's basket with 16:39 left.
"We just played in a game where we scored 122 points. Tonight we were in a rock fight," Brown said. "So it's great and encouraging for me to know whatever game presents itself, we're able to compete in it."
For the Tar Heels, Marcus Paige scored a career-high 23 points, with 16 coming after halftime.
He joined with fellow sophomore Brice Johnson to give the Tar Heels (2-0) the spark they needed to break free from a 35-all tie. Johnson finished with 12 points for his second double-figure scoring output in two games for UNC, which again played without leading scorer P.J. Hairston and senior guard Leslie McDonald due to NCAA eligibility concerns.
Paige and Johnson combined to score 10 points during the 12-0 run that finally gave the Tar Heels some cushion midway through the second half against the Crusaders (1-2).
Malachi Alexander scored 13 to lead Holy Cross.
Paige and Johnson turned in their second straight strong performance to start the year. With Hairston and McDonald out, that's meant more minutes for Paige on the wing instead of his normal role at the point. He scored 14 points with four 3-pointers in the opening win against Oakland a week earlier, then went 8 for 17 from the floor with three 3s in 36 minutes Friday.
He also hit four free throws in the final minute to help seal the win, including two with 58.5 seconds left after Holy Cross had clawed to within 56-50.
Johnson, a lean 6-foot-9 forward, showed a nice touch in the paint to give the Tar Heels some needed interior scoring when they were struggling with their own shooting. Johnson went the last 21 games of his freshman season without reaching double figures, but has done it in two straight games to open the year.
North Carolina shot just 27 percent (9 for 33) in the first half, but shot nearly 52 percent after halftime to finally take control.
Dudzinski finished with 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting for Holy Cross, while Hamilton had eight on 2-for-11 shooting.
North Carolina led 11-1 early as Holy Cross misfired on 16 of 18 shots to open the game. But the Tar Heels struggled with their shooting just as much, squandering a chance to build a big lead as the Crusaders crawled their way into a 25-all tie just before halftime.
The teams shot a combined 15-for-60 (25 percent) in that opening half.