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EAST LANSING, Mich. – J.P. Tokoto had 12 points and a career-high 10 rebounds to help North Carolina beat No. 1 Michigan State 79-65 Wednesday night, giving the Tar Heels another impressive victory in their inconsistent season.
The Tar Heels (5-2) have been talented enough to defeat the top-ranked Spartans and then-No. 3 Louisville this season, but they've also lost to Belmont and UAB.
"You can't tell in college basketball what's going to happen," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "At one point, we had three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior on the court."
Michigan State (7-1) fell to an unranked nonconference team at home for the first time in more than a decade.
The Tar Heels took control from the start, never trailed and used a 12-1 run to take a 65-52 lead with 6:02 left.
"Michigan State did not want it that much more than we did," Williams said.
Kennedy Meeks scored 15 points for North Carolina and Brice Johnson had 14. Marcus Paige and Nate Britt added 13 apiece.
Gary Harris had 17 points and Keith Appling scored 13, but both Michigan State guards missed 10 of 15 shots. Adreian Payne had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Spartans, whose last loss at home against an unranked nonconference team was Toledo on Dec. 30, 2002.
The Tar Heels beat a No. 1 team for the first time since March 4, 2006, at Duke, and they have a nation-high 13 wins over top-ranked teams. They've won seven straight against the Spartans, including in the 2009 NCAA final.
Tokoto has taken advantage of an expanded role while P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald sit out because of NCAA eligibility concerns.
The 6-foot-5 Tokoto, who is from Wisconsin, made some friends and family members in the stands at the Breslin Center happy while green-and-white clad fans didn't have much to get excited about.
Tokoto blocked a shot early in the second half, got to a loose ball and threw it to Appling — while the Spartans player was standing out of bounds — and made three straight shots later in the half to help the Tar Heels pull away.
"J.P. was really active," Williams said. "He did a lot of things."
Michigan State pulled into a 32-all tie at halftime after an awful start, struggling to take care of the ball or make shots.
The Tar Heels scored the first six points of the game and led 16-4 while holding the Spartans to 1-of-7 shooting with four turnovers.
On the bench, North Carolina freshman Isaiah Hicks implored his teammates to keep playing and avoid looking at the scoreboard. The Tar Heels seemed to do that, building a 20-6 lead midway through the first half as Michigan State missed 9 of 11 shots and turned the ball over six times.
The Spartans got a scare later in the half when Appling landed hard on his right hip after defending a shot. He hobbled off the court, but was able to return to action before halftime.
Michigan State outscored the Tar Heels 13-2 over the last several minutes of the first half.