In the world of sports, there may not be anything as synonymous with Carolina basketball as big moments have been. Whether good or bad, epic moments in basketball history have found the Tar Heels on multiple occasions, and it is what makes being a fan that much more fun. This year there were a few of those moments to add to the history books, and we’re going to take a look at the top three moments from the season.
No. 1 No. 4 Gonzaga
In what was a really fun game, UNC and Gonzaga made up for what was a messy national championship game by lighting up the scoreboard for 40 minutes. Cam Johnson scored a team-high 25 points and make 6 of his 8 three-point attempts, and Luke Maye provided a great deal of support with his 20-point 16-rebound performance. Turnover issues aside, Coby White and Seventh Woods looked like they were going to make a formidable pair by the time March hit, as they both combined for 29 points.
Following what was an awful loss to Michigan two games prior, the Heels needed the win against Gonzaga in a major way. For those that like defense, the game was a little hard to watch, as the Zags shot 50% from the field and only took one less shot than the Heels from the field. Offensively, however, it was a thrilling game, and one can only hope the game this fall is just as fun.
The OT Thriller Against Miami
I know what you’re thinking: our own Al Hood already covered this as one of the best comebacks of the year. However, this was undoubtedly one of the biggest moments of the season, as the Heels proved that they had a level of toughness that made it very hard for many teams to beat them during the ACC regular season. In fact, only two teams beat them during conference play. Let that sink in for a moment.
The Hurricanes went into the Dean Smith Center with one sole mission: earn a marquee win so that they could get into the NCAA Tournament. They did a great job of trying to do so, as Chris Lykes was on fire all night. Fortunately for UNC, Coby White was hotter, as he took over the game after Miami went up by 13 points with seven and a half minutes left in regulation. White went ballistic from the perimeter, and got Nassir Little and Kenny Williams a couple of touches in the process.
Down by three with 27 seconds left, the Heels ran some clock down before taking a timeout. Once they were back on the floor, this happened:
Following Luke Maye’s big time shot from three, Coby White managed to keep Lykes from repeating another heartbreaking buzzer-beater by the hands of the Hurricanes. Once the game went into overtime, the Heels found a way to put them away to sweep the home and home series. White finished the game with 33 points and 6 assists, and made an absurd 70% of his three-point attempts. It was easily his best game of the season....until Syracuse came into town and he destroyed their 2-3 zone. Did I ever mention how much I’m going to miss him?
Sweeping the Blue Devils
Let’s be honest: everyone knew that Duke was going to come up at some point, right? Truth be told, all three games could’ve qualified for the top three biggest moments of the season, as the two regular season games were big wins against the NCAA Preseason National Champions, and the third game was a a one-point defeat against a team that had Zion Williamson back in the lineup. If we’re being even more honest with ourselves, there might not be a more satisfying series against the Dookies for quite a while, unless they manage to get the top-three best recruits in the nation for one year again with a college basketball mega star leading the charge. I digress.
While it’s true that the Heels lost the third game, the regular season sweep against Duke was a huge deal. It was a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since 2009, when Roy Williams had arguably the best team he’s had since he’s been the head coach for the Tar Heels. For this team to accomplish a feat that not even the 2012 team failed to do (I hate Austin Rivers) is incredible, and it was even sweeter that the second game was to own a share of the ACC title.
In round two, the Blue Devils were on a mission to avenge their loss in Cameron and prove that they were able to get the job done without their star player. For what it’s worth, they made a great attempt, as RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish combined for 49 of Duke’s 70 points. However, everyone in attendance got to witness the return of OG Kenny Williams, as he lit up the Blue Devils from all over the floor. He went 4 of 7 from three after struggling tremendously for almost the entire season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Coby White also was able to do Coby White things, as he contributed 21 points of his own and shot 40% from deep.
Despite the lack of dramatics for the better part of the last 10 minutes of the game, this game was as big as they get. We’ll never know what would’ve happened had Williamson played, and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the Heels got to sweep Duke for the first time in a decade, and also got to walk off of the court with a share of the ACC regular season championship.