RALEIGH, N.C. -- Top-seeded North Carolina used a riveting start to the second half to dismiss thoughts of an historic upset on the way to defeating Florida Gulf Coast 83-67 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament first round Thursday night at PNC Arena.
Forward Brice Johnson scored 18 points and blocked eight shots and guard Joel Berry had 14 points for the Tar Heels, who led by only one point at halftime and didn't want to become the first No. 1 regional seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed.
North Carolina, which is the top seed in the East Region, also received 12 points apiece from forwards Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks and 10 points from guard Marcus Paige.
North Carolina (29-6) will face the winner of the Providence-Southern Cal game in Saturday's second round of the East Region.
Guard Christian Terrell scored 15 points to lead Florida Gulf Coast, which won two nights earlier in a First Four game against Fairleigh Dickinson. Forward Antravious Simmons had 14 points, and forward Marc-Eddy Norelia chipped in with 10 points for the Eagles (21-14).
The Tar Heels burst out after halftime, going on a 13-3 run in less than three minutes to stretch their lead to 54-43.
The spurt was extended to 34-12, so North Carolina was up 75-52 with seven minutes left.
The Tar Heels, playing about a half-hour drive from their Chapel Hill campus, received a huge ovation when the regulars were removed with 57 seconds left and outcome in hand.
The Eagles, who are the only No. 15 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16 (three years ago), were unable to repeat their underdog magic.
North Carolina clung to a 41-40 halftime lead after holding an 11-point edge in the first half.
Florida Gulf Coast was bolstered by 60-percent shooting (15-for-25) in the first half, benefitting from several plays on what appeared to be defensive breakdowns.
The Eagles suffered from 10 first-half turnovers, with the Tar Heels converting on several of those when they build the double-figure margin.
North Carolina made only two of 12 shots from the field to end to the first half, allowing the Eagles to climb back into it.
NOTES: North Carolina holds a No. 1 regional seed for the 15th time, marking the most of any school. ... The Tar Heels have been in the East Regional for 14 of their 18 Final Four seasons. ... North Carolina has been sent to NCAA Tournament play in Raleigh six times. ... Florida Gulf Coast has four consecutive seasons of 21 or more victories. ... Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley is a former coach at East Carolina, so this this was a bit of a homecoming for him.