Stop me if you’ve heard this before: UNC claws their way back into an important game, tying it up late only to have their soul crushed by an opposing three by an opponent.
If you’re having flashbacks to April, no one would blame you.
UNC managed to hang around all game against Kentucky, despite the fact that Malik Monk scored 47 of the Wildcats’ 103 points. It was the kind of fast-paced track meet you’d expect of these two teams, and fans of college basketball watching without a rooting interest were treated to an incredible game.
For those of us partial to baby blue, however, the result is disappointing. Carolina big men played through incredible foul trouble all game that limited their ability to stand tough down low late in the game. Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry fouled out of the game, and Isaiah Hicks was limited in his time on the floor with quick fouls that continue to plague his game.
Despite all that, Carolina took a late lead on a Justin Jackson three pointer with 1:35 left on the clock. Monk answered with a three of his own to tie the score again before Berry missed a shot on the other end of the floor. Hicks brought down the offensive rebound and Justin Jackson made a shot and was fouled. Up two with a chance to make it three, Jackson missed his free throw. It has been a common issue for the Tar Heels.
Carolina had a chance to make up for it when Luke Maye grabbed the miss, but Berry couldn’t hit the shot. With less than 20 seconds left on the clock, Monk drained another three pointer to put Kentucky up by a point. With time to grab a last second victory, the ball ended up in the hands of Hicks. The shot was a bad one. Carolina ended up with a last ditch attempt at a three from the corner as time expired, but the ball hung on the rim and that was that.
If this or that had gone slightly different, we’re probably talking about a Carolina win. That doesn’t help in this moment, but there was a lot to be hopeful about in the game. Berry being back was a huge difference maker for the Tar Heels, and they managed to keep pace with a team full of future first round picks despite one guy being responsible for nearly 50 points. That’ll get you into March and maybe even April.
Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain perspective after tough losses. Carolina was in a position to win this game and didn’t, partly because of some poor shot selection and some suboptimal defense. All that is true. However, it’s still a game played before Christmas against a top notch opponent. These games turn into learning experiences and help them down the road. Hopefully that’s what this does, and they’ll be all the more prepared for the next one.
UNC takes on Northern Iowa at home on Wednesday before taking the week off for Christmas.