James was among four Longhorns to score at least 20 points. That group alone nearly outscored the Tar Heels, combining for 89 points.
All told, Texas became the first team to score 100 points in regulation against North Carolina since Roy Williams became head coach in 2003-04.
The Longhorns (10-0) also kept up a streak of winning by double-digit margins. This was their closest game yet. Then again, it also was their first time playing a ranked team.
"We knew we had to come today and send a message to the nation that we're not playing around, that we can also go against good competition," said Dexter Pittman, who had 23 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. "We showed that."
Can they do it again? They'll find out Tuesday when No. 12 Michigan State visits Austin.
"Hopefully, we show up like we did today," said J'Covan Brown, who had 21 points.
Avery Bradley added 20 points as the Longhorns cruised to victory in the same building where Colt McCoy and the Texas football team won the Big 12 title two weeks before.
North Carolina (8-3) led for most of the first 16 minutes, then fell behind for good during a stretch of 10 straight misses. The Tar Heels gave up a 23-7 run going into halftime that included an inbounds pass that was stolen and turned into a layup by Bradley with 1 second left.
"That was an important play for us going into the end of the half," Bradley said. "It was a momentum boost for us."
North Carolina clawed to within 82-78 with 6:59 to play, but simply couldn't keep up with Texas' scorers.
For instance, while Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller were a combined 16 of 21 for 37 points, the rest of the Tar Heels combined for just 20 baskets.
Marcus Ginyard returned from a one-game absence to score 13, but he missed seven of his first 10 tries. Dexter Strickland also came back from a one-game absence and scored 12. No other UNC players hit double figures.
"Their energy level was higher than ours," Ginyard said. "Their intensity was higher than ours and they were competing for the majority of the game and we weren't."
The stat sheet backs him up.
The Longhorns outrebounded the Tar Heels 60-41, which went a long way toward helping them load up on easy baskets; Pittman alone had 12 offensive rebounds. Texas outscored North Carolina 27-11 on second-chance points and 16-8 on fast breaks.
"There were some point-blank shots we missed," Williams said. "There were too many plays we didn't finish. And they had some big guys that made us miss inside, too."
This was the second-most points the Tar Heels have allowed under Williams, topped only by Wake Forest's 119 in a triple-overtime victory in December 2003.
"It's not always something we're not doing," Williams said. "They're ranked second in the country for a reason."
The best news for North Carolina might be the end of an extremely tough stretch: five of eight games against teams currently among the top 18. The Tar Heels went 2-3, also losing to No. 3 Kentucky and No. 5 Syracuse.
"We definitely hope that it will make us a better team," Zeller said.
Texas coach Rick Barnes still found some flaws in his team's performance. Point distribution could be among them; besides the four 20-point scorers, the other eight players combined for 14 points.
"I think if we play to our potential, we can beat everybody we play," Barnes said.
Jai Lucas had an assist, a turnover and two fouls in 6 minutes for the Longhorns. This was his first game since transferring from Florida, where he made the SEC's all-freshman team in 2007-08.
Although this was technically a neutral site, burnt orange clothing filled the stands. The game drew 38,052; more than twice as many are expected for the next basketball game here -- the NBA All-Star game in February.
"It's amazing what money can do," James said. "I think we can fit my hometown inside this place."
An NCAA regional round is coming to this building in 2013, and the Final Four in 2014. Williams won't mind staying away.
"It's not one of my favorite places," he said, smirking, "because I just got my tail kicked."
This was only the fifth time these programs have met. Texas has won the last three for a 3-2 series lead.