And you thought the NIT was going to be all fun and excitement. Instead, we got a painfully boring game against an incredibly slow team. Defensive rebounds both kept the Heels in the lead and kept their fans from slitting their wrists; when the Blazers extended their possessions with offensive boards – one trip down the court lasted an interminable 1:40 – the game became absolutely ridiculous. UAB shot a miserable 28.8% from the field, and two players, Elijah Millsap and Jamarr Sanders, accounted for 35 of UAB's 55 points.
Defensively, the Heels held up their end; the offense struggled a bit. UAB was happy to pack the lane and dare the Heels to send the ball in after them. And to be fair, Deon Thompson rose to the occasion, putting together his first double-double since November – 14 points and 12 rebounds. Henson and Drew added 14 and 11, and Carolina never relinquished the lead after the 16:17 mark of the second half. Which was very calming down the stretch, since any sort of comeback against UAB's slow-play offense would have been arduous. More importantly, UNC finally played a convincing endgame, making all six of their final free throws keeping the game out of reach.
So UNC is off to New York, where they get to be both the underdog and the marquee headliner, already assigned the late game by ESPN. It's an interesting place to be, denied both a rubber match with Virginia Tech and a potential championship rematch with Illinois. Other teams just refuse to provide a storyline for this thing. Instead we get Rhode Island in a battle of Carolina blue jersey, hopefully followed by either Mississippi or Dayton. All rather anticlimactic, but much better than the alternative, isn't it?