CHAPEL HILL, N.C., DEC. 6 -- Tonight was the night that the Atlantic Coast Conference would, if not make everything right in the ACC-Big East Challenge series, at least make it more palatable.

But the evening nearly became indigestible. After Wake Forest frittered away a lead in losing to Villanova, 91-82, North Carolina came out onto its home floor here at Smith Center and turned the basketball over seven times in the first five minutes against Connecticut.

However, the Tar Heels rallied in the last seven minutes, outscoring the Huskies by 27-12 to salvage the night with a 79-64 victory. The ACC registered victories in the first (Virginia over Pitt) and last games of the series but the Big East won six straight in between.

The run could have been seven straight had the Huskies not fallen apart down the stretch. Entering the game Coach Jim Calhoun said they were going to have trouble scoring in a half-court situation against the Tar Heels and that fear came to pass, his players missing improbable shots.

Chris Smith led the team with 21 points but was eight of 21 from the field. In the second half, Connecticut was nine of 32 (28 percent) from the floor.

"We lost that game by {15} points," Calhoun said. "If we had played another 10 minutes we would have lost by 156. We just fell apart."

North Carolina's massive size and depth began to take effect during the decisive stretch. All of the winners' points in the last seven minutes came either from inside the lane or at the foul line.

Rick Fox led North Carolina with 18 points and had 10 rebounds. George Lynch had 12 and 14.

"I never thought in my wildest dreams that their pressure would bother us as much as it did at the start of the game," said North Carolina Coach Dean Smith. "But it was like two different games out there; in the second half they never got a good look at the basket and we didn't lose the ball as much."

North Carolina had 16 of its 28 turnovers in the first half, falling behind by 40-33 at intermission. Even with its offensive woes, Connecticut still appeared to have matters in hand, forcing the Tar Heels into six turnovers during an eight-possession stretch and taking a 48-43 lead.

But the bad shooting from the field and the foul line (the Huskies were nine of 23) continued and North Carolina tied the score at 52 on an offensive rebound basket by Eric Montross with 7:42 to play. A layup by Pete Chilcutt 42 seconds later gave the Tar Heels the lead and precipitated the rout.

"We thought we were playing hard but we proved in the second half that we could play even harder," said Fox.

The Tar Heels have what has generally been regarded as the greatest freshman class in the game. However right now, Smith is more concerned with finding playing time for those five and for the wealth of talent that was already in hand. In the first 11 minutes, he used 13 players.

After the Tar Heels fell behind by 13-1 through early mistakes, one of those heralded freshmen, 6-foot-10 forward Clifford Rozier, entered the game. His aggressiveness helped the Tar Heels close to 34-31 with less than two minutes to play in the opening half.

But Rod Sellers scored on a driving layup for the Huskies and North Carolina turned the ball over on its next two possessions. Layups by John Gwynn and Sellers gave the visitors a 40-33 halftime lead.

Chris Smith scored the first points of the second half but Chilcutt's two foul shots and Fox's three-point basket made the score 42-38 Connecticut less than three minutes into the half.

When it came to miscues, Wake Forest didn't match the Tar Heels' early troubles but made enough physical and mental errors to enable Villanova to stay close, then rush to victory down the stretch.

Even so, it took what seemed to be a bad call to seal the Demon Deacons' fate. Villanova was leading by 79-76 with 5:38 left when Wake Forest's Rodney Rodgers, stole the ball and went the length of the floor to score, seemingly drawing a foul. Referee Dick Paparo ruled Rodgers had charged.

Arron Bain's 22 points led the winners.

Pittsburgh 105, Marshall 75: In Pittsburgh, Brian Shorter scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half.

Tennessee Tech 84, Southern Mississippi 78: In Cookeville, Tenn., Van Usher scored nine of his 17 points in the second half as Tennessee Tech (3-2) stunned No. 15 Southern Mississippi (2-1).

CU, GW Women Lose

Judy James scored 31 points as host York beat Catholic, 72-70. York is 6-3, Catholic 2-5.

At JMU Convocation Center, James Madison beat George Washington, 78-57. Vicki Harris led James Madison (3-2) with 21 points. GW is 2-1.