Any year that ends in a loss is going to leave some amount of a sour taste in our mouths. The way this season ended suddenly in the Sweet 16 against Auburn was no different. However, the reason the loss felt as sudden as it did was because of how good the team had been up to that point.
Despite the season ending earlier than expected, the 2018-19 North Carolina Tar Heels team accomplished a lot. They were ACC regular season co-champions and a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They could not have done all that without picking up some big wins along the way. Here are the five best from this season.
December 15th: #12 UNC 103, #4 Gonzaga 90
On November 28th, the Tar Heels went to Michigan and were run out of Ann Arbor in one of their worst games of the season. A week later, they should have and did crush UNC Wilmington at home. However, that UNCW game was all the lead up they had to their meeting against the #4 Bulldogs.
Going off how they had played against Michigan and with Gonzaga off to a hot start, it was understandable to be worried about how Carolina would respond against another really good team. Instead, they put up one of the more impressive offensive performances you’ll see.
The Tar Heels shot 56.4% from the field and a crazy 52% from three as they won fairly handily against Gonzaga. Cam Johnson led the team in scoring with 25, going 6-8 from beyond the arc. Luke Maye grabbed 16 rebounds to go along with his 20 points, and Seventh Woods played one of his best games, scoring 14 off the bench. That was the first real piece of evidence that this team could compete with the nation’s best teams.
January 21st: #11 UNC 103, #10 Virginia Tech 82
After the infamous loss to Louisville early in the ACC season, UNC won their next two games but didn’t look impressive in either. They beat Notre Dame and Miami by a 15 combined points, which is not great considering those teams won just eight conference games between them. They then were tasked with a Virginia Tech team, who was coming in on a nine-game winning streak. This was going to be a test of where the Tar Heels stood in the ACC. They passed the test.
Coby White put on a show as UNC crushed the Hokies in Chapel Hill. White led all scorers with 27 points, knocking down five threes. As a team, the Tar Heels made 16 threes, and shot 53.7% overall. Virginia Tech played pretty well on the offensive end too, they just ran into a buzzsaw.
February 2nd: #9 UNC 79, #15 Louisville 69
There was the aforementioned Michigan game and the tournament loss to Auburn, but UNC’s worst loss off the season was probably the 20-point beatdown they suffered to Louisville in January. They looked completely listless, and the final margin set the record as the biggest home loss in Roy Williams’ tenure in Chapel Hill. A couple weeks later, they returned the favor.
The final margin didn’t end up being as big as the game in Chapel Hill, but the Cardinals never had a chance. UNC were up 16 at halftime and really never looked back from there. After flatly getting outworked in the first meeting, Carolina held UL to 41.9% shooting, and dominated the rebound battle the second time around. A third meeting in the ACC Tournament led to a second UNC win, as they fully exercised their demons from the first game.
February 20th: #8 UNC 88, #1 Duke 72
The big story to come out of this game, that was the big story in college basketball for weeks after this, had nothing to do with UNC. Zion Williamson was of course injured in the opening moments of this game, causing him to miss the remaining 39 minutes and the next several weeks. What was missed in all that hubbub was a clinic put on by the Tar Heels.
Led by Maye’s 30 points and 15 rebounds, Carolina dominated inside. They scored as many on two-point shots as Duke had points total. Yes, Williamson’s absence played a part in the final score, but it’s hard to believe he could have done enough to prevent UNC’s dominance.
March 9th: #3 UNC 79, #4 Duke 70
It had been exactly ten years and a day since the last time North Carolina had swept the regular season series against their biggest rival. Between that and the role this game had the potential to play in NCAA Tournament seeding, it was big. Oh, and it was the Tar Heels’ senior night. There were storylines all around.
The seniors made sure they went out with a win in their final home game, combining for 39 points, 32 rebounds, and 11 assists between the three of them. Kenny Williams in particular played one of the best games of his career, going for 18 points on 4-7 shooting from three. He also played excellent defense on R.J. Barrett, drawing three charges against the star Duke freshman.
Both teams ended up getting a #1 seed anyway, so the win didn’t end up being quitse as big as it seemed at the time, at least for NCAAT purposes. However, sending the seniors out with a home win over Duke will never not be important.