The North Carolina Tar Heels continued Thursday on their tour to confound college basketball, returning from a loss in their last outing with a 79-65 win over the No. 1 Michigan State Spartans on their home floor.
Michigan State (7-1) will almost assuredly vacate the No. 1 spot in next week's Associated Press top 25 after holding it each of the last four weeks. North Carolina now has two elite wins this season, including a 93-84 win over the No. 7 Louisville Cardinals on Nov. 24, to go with an 83-80 loss to the Belmont Bruins and Sunday's 63-59 road loss to the UAB Blazers.
Roy Williams, in his 11 seasons as the North Carolina coach, is now 7-0 against Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
The Tar Heels improbably jumped out to a 20-6 lead with 11:19 to play, and much of that was on the shoulders of Michigan State's poor play. By the time North Carolina had taken its 14-point first-half lead, the Spartans were 2-of-11 from the floor with six turnovers less than nine minutes into the game.
Michigan State never took the lead in the first half, but its comeback culminated with a Keith Appling three-point shot that tied the game at 32 with 52 seconds until halftime. Appling had come out of the game with a hip pointer, and he was taken back to the locker room for examination in the first half before re-entering the game minutes later.
Though the Spartans tied the game at halftime, they never took the lead at any point in the second half. They tied the game three times in the second half, and North Carolina answered each before Michigan State could get back on the board. The last tied score was at 49 when Appling hit a three with 12:12 to play, but North Carolina answered with a 10-2 run over the next four minutes.
Kennedy Meeks led the Tar Heels with 15 points, finishing as one of five North Carolina players in double figures.