Marquette beats UNC for first time since 1977

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First-year forward Dawson Garcia shoots a free throw during Marquette’s win against North Carolina Wednesday night (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

For the first time since Feb. 20, 2014, Steve Wojciechowski was sitting on the bench at the Dean E. Smith Center. This time though, he was not associate head coach of Duke or even suiting up for the Blue Devils. Instead, he was leading his own program to an 83-70 victory over the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Tar Heels Wednesday night.

“I know it’s a great storyline because of my history with North Carolina and Duke, but I didn’t try to talk about that much because this game is about our program and our team and Marquette,” Wojciechowski said. “It’s a great place to win. … Playing in the Dean Dome, against a Hall of Fame coach (and) a lot of very talented players. Our guys were abundantly aware of that. … I thought our guys competed incredibly hard for 40 minutes.”

The last time Marquette beat UNC was in the 1977 NCAA Championship game in Atlanta March 28, 1977, when legendary coach Al McGuire led his team to a 67-59 victory, and the school’s only National Championship, in his final year as head coach of the then-Warriors.

Meanwhile, the Tar Heels’ head coach Roy Williams was looking for his 900th career win and will have to sit at 899 for the time being. This was also UNC’s 18th nonconference loss at the Dean Dome.

“We were real excited. We knew it was a big opportunity and we definitely came in here and played the right way and took care of business,” first-year forward Dawson Garcia said. “I’m just glad we got the dub. … We all executed the game plan, we came out there and competed hard and got the job done.”

Even though the Tar Heels scored the first points of the game and led for about a minute, those 57 seconds would be their only lead of the game.

It was all Marquette in the first seven minutes, as the Golden Eagles were hot early, possessing a 14-4 advantage while making four of five shots. MU went on an 8-0 run and held UNC to 2-for-13 from the field. The Tar Heels went on a 2:29 scoring drought as well.

The Golden Eagles kept up that pace for the remainder of the first half as they played both sides of the ball. At the 4:41 mark, Marquette went on another 6-0 run in just 38 seconds.

They were able to maintain a healthy advantage, as their largest lead came with 1:04 left before halftime, when the Golden Eagles were up by 18.

“I’m proud of how they competed. We have the upmost respect for North Carolina, but our guys did the job they needed to tonight,” Wojciechowski said.

Marquette went into the half leading 45-29, which was UNC’s largest halftime deficit all season, and the Golden Eagles had scored 13 points off North Carolina’s 10 turnovers. Garcia notched 16 points, with Greg Elliott following closely behind shooting 4-for-8 from the field and contributing 13 points.

“We did a great job of preparation, so we just came in here and executed very well,” Garcia said. “We were on the ball tough and we had great voice pressure as well, so I think that rattled them a little bit.”

In the first 16 minutes of the second half, Marquette turned the ball over 10 times as they struggled handling UNC’s full-court press.

Though the Tar Heels shot 47% in the second half and brought the lead to within seven at the 7:51 mark, Marquette fought through the pressure, played stout defense and forced UNC to turn the ball over nine more times. The Golden Eagles were also hot from three, knocking down nine 3-pointers as they recorded a 38% shooting percentage from downtown.

“It was all about just staying connected. We didn’t want that pressure to rattle us,” Garcia said.

Four Golden Eagles ended in double-digit scoring: Garcia led all players with 24 points, sophomore guard D.J. Carton contributed 17 points and five assists, Elliott chipped in 15 points and senior forward Theo John rounded it out with 11.

Garcia also notched 11 rebounds as he recorded the third double-double of his career.

“When you coach really good players, and I’ve been very fortunate to be around a lot of them, there are going to be peaks and valleys,” Wojciechowski said. “Dawson was a man tonight. I’ve been around a lot of freshmen that have played in the Dean Dome that have not come anywhere close to what he did tonight.”

For the Tar Heels, it was Garrison Brooks who led the way with 18 points. Although UNC’s bench added 37 points, the rest of the starters struggled and were 4-for-23 from the field.

The Golden Eagles (11-12 , 6-10 BIG EAST) will head to Cameroon Indoor Stadium to practice at Wojciechowski’s alma mater Thursday, and then face the University of Connecticut Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Central Standard Time. The game will air on Fox.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity and we’ve had a lot of young guys in really key positions for us. We’re getting better,” Wojciechowski said. “Our guys showed a lot of heart and determination.”

This story was written by Zoe Comerford. She can be reached at isabel.comerford@marquette.edu or on Twitter @zoe_comerford