Pete Nance scored 28 points, Caleb Love added 23 and No. 1 North Carolina survived an unexpected test from Portland to beat the Pilots 89-81 in the opening round of the Phil Knight Invitational on Thursday.
The Tar Heels (5-0) needed a late 14-3 run to finally pull away from one of the tournament’s host schools.
Love carried them in the first half with 16 points and reached the 1,000-point mark in his career, becoming the 80th North Carolina player to reach that mark. North Carolina has the most 1,000-point scorers of any school in the country.
Nance picked up the slack after halftime with 20 points and matched his career high in scoring set last season when he was playing for Northwestern.
Moses Wood led Portland (4-3) with 21 points. The Pilots didn’t let the Heels pull away until the closing minutes when Portland went cold from the field. Portland had just one field goal in the final 4 minutes — Tyler Robertson hit a three-pointer with 50 seconds left to cut North Carolina’s lead to 84-81.
But that was the last chance for the Pilots, because RJ Davis hit a 17-footer for the Tar Heels with 26 seconds left to put the game away. Davis finished with 13 points, Armando Bacot had 11 points and 13 rebounds and Leaky Black had 11 points.
Robertson, Portland’s leading scorer, finished with 13 points after going scoreless in the first half. Alden Applewhite added 14 off the bench.
Portland took its biggest lead at 64-59 when Applewhite scored on a pretty backdoor cut with 11:30 remaining. North Carolina scored 10 of the next 13 points, but Wood’s baseline floater pulled the Pilots even at 69-69 with 7:30 left.
Robertson’s baseline jumper and another floater by Wood pushed Portland’s lead to four, but the Tar Heels responded with their decisive run.
North Carolina: Portland was the fifth straight team from a non-Power 5 conference that the Tar Heels faced to open the season. That will change Friday with their semifinal matchup. North Carolina has just one game remaining on its schedule against a non-Power 5 team.
Portland: It was a tremendous effort by the Pilots, who faced North Carolina in the opening round of this tournament when it was played five years ago and lost 102-78. The Pilots also played without starting guard Mike Meadows due to injury.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels will face either Iowa State or Villanova in the semifinals on Friday.
Portland: The Pilots will face either Iowa State or Villanova in a consolation game on Friday.
— The Associated Press