In an all-too familiar story for this year’s UNC Tar Heels, the team after a long break couldn’t muster up the requisite energy for a game, had a cold player on the opposition go nuclear from three, and didn’t have the offensive firepower inside or out to make up the difference. The Wisconsin Badgers were the opponent this time, and they absolutely overpowered UNC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 85-62.
The game started as a slow, fairly back-and-forth affair, with Wisconsin leading by one to two field goals through the majority of the first half before, at 25-19 Badgers with 6 minutes to go, Wisconsin went on a 16-5 run to end the half, paced by hot shooting by Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice, and led 40-24 at the break. Unfortunately for the Heels, their opponents’ offensive pace didn’t slow down from that point, with Davison in particular hitting shot after shot, ending up hitting 10/15 of his shots (5/7 from three) and torching the Heels for 29 points. Trice added 21 points on 8/15 shooting (3/8 from three). Some of this was due to lackadaisical defense on a stretch big, but some was simply down to tough shotmaking that the Heels couldn’t answer — even though their offense was better in the second half than the first, they couldn’t string together a run and the offense was too inconsistent to keep pace with Wisconsin. The Badgers’ lead was never less than 12 for the entirety of the second half, and as UNC’s will to come back faded in the last five minutes, it ballooned to the 20’s, marking one of Roy Williams’ worst ever postseason losses.
Armando Bacot provided some bright moments for the Heels in the first half of the second half, providing most of their offense as they tried to close the 16-point halftime gap. He led the team with 15 points on 6/9 shooting and added an assist and two steals to his contributions, but his rebounding was surprisingly lackluster, with just 4 to his name. Other than that, UNC didn’t get too many positive contributions, particularly from the young players who had been carrying them through the last few games. Caleb Love was 2/5 from three and led the team in assists with three (with no turnovers!), but couldn’t find his inside shot. Kerwin Walton, hounded like he hadn’t been all season by a defensive gameplan obviously meant to bottle him up, didn’t respond strongly enough and only attempted 3 three-pointers (making 2) and was otherwise invisible. R.J. Davis lost his positive scoring momentum and was just 2/9 from the field for 5 points, and both Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler couldn’t assert their usual dominance on the boards against a team that had been coached to send 5 bodies to the glass by any means necessary, and couldn’t get anything going offensively, either.
This game marks the end of an unusual, sometimes fun, often frustrating, always confusing season for UNC men’s basketball. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about what this offseason and the future might bring in the coming months, but for now, I’m going to end this recap by thanking this year’s team for dealing gamely with absolutely unprecedented, trying, and thankless circumstances, for the numerous sacrifices they made just for the effort to entertain us fans. In a year that’s been tough on all of us, their role in trying to make us feel better will not be forgotten.