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Tar Heel Firsts: Notable moments from Roy Williams’ career

In honor of the UNC legend’s retirement, let’s look back at some notable firsts from his career in Chapel Hill.

North Carolina Tar Heels v Illinois Fighting Illini Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Over the past couple summers (or spring last year) during the downtime of North Carolina Tar Heels sports, I have done a series looking back into the history books at some of the notable firsts in UNC history. Well there’s plenty going on right now, but it would be remiss of me to not break out the series for a special occasion.

Just over a week ago, Roy Williams announced that he was retiring as Tar Heels’ head coach, ending an incredible 18-year reign. Let’s take a walk down memory lane by looking back at some of the notable first from his career coaching the Heels.

First Game and First Win

Williams time at UNC couldn’t have gotten off to a better start as UNC cruised to an easy 90-64 win over Old Dominion to start the 2003-04 season. Sean May scored the first basket of the era, as the Heels built up a 17-point halftime lead and never looked back. May had 17 points and seven rebounds while he who won’t be named led Carolina with 18 points and eight assists.

First NCAA Tournament

While UNC didn’t quite keep up their lofty preseason top ten expectations, they were a comfortable tourney team in Roy’s first year in Chapel Hill. An 18-10 season with five wins over ranked teams, including one over then #1 and eventual national champion UConn, got the Heels a #6 seed.

After trailing at the half in the first round, Carolina rallied for a double digit point win over #11 seed Air Force, getting the Heels a meeting with #3 seed Texas in the second round. There, a late run got within three points of the Longhorns, but they eventually fell 78-75.

First Duke win

After losing his first three UNC-Duke games by a combined eight points, Williams finally got a win over the school’s biggest rival in the regular season finale of the ‘04-05 season. In what would be one of his most famous wins over the Blue Devils, the Heels trailed by nine with three minutes left. What ensued was a historical rally, capped off by a three-point play by Marvin Williams that put the Heels ahead for good.

The win would also clinch Roy’s first ACC regular season championship, as the win put UNC one game ahead of second place Wake Forest.

First Final Four

The #6 seed Wisconsin was a bit of surprise Elite Eight opponent for UNC, but they gave the Heels all they could handle in 2005. The Heels led by just one with three minutes left, but outscored by Badgers 15-9 down the stretch to advance to to Roy’s fifth total Final Four and first as the head man in Chapel Hill.

First National Championship

As funny as it sounds all these years and three national titles later, Williams did once have the tag as the guy who “couldn’t win the big one.” It didn’t take long into his tenure at UNC to end that narrative once and for all.

In a matchup of the two clear best teams in the country, UNC and Illinois battled for 40 minutes. The Heels led by as many as 15, but the Illini (who finished the season a fairly incredible 37-2) would not go away and came back to tie the game. However, the Tar Heels would score the final five points of the game, with Raymond Felton hitting three big free throws to ice the game.

The narrative around Williams ended, and the rejuvenation of the program that had gone just 8-20 a few seasons prior was complete.

First ACC Tournament Championship

We saw several times over his career that the ACC Tournament is not Roy Williams’ main concern. Not to say that he doesn’t care about it, but his general focus was the tournament that starts the next week. However, he did bring some ACC Tournament titles home over the years.

In his fourth season in charge, a young squad led by sophomore Tyler Hansborough tied for the ACC regular season crown and got the #1 seed in Tampa for the 2007 ACC Tournament. They picked up mostly easy wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals to set up a championship game against upstart #10 seed NC State. After a 15-14 regular season, the Wolfpack were playing for the autobid, with no chance at going to the NCAA Tournament with a loss.

There’s no team that Williams loved beating more than NC State, and he and his team did so again this day. State got within one point late in the second half, but the Heels pulled away down the stretch, winning 89-80. It was UNC’s first ACC Tournament title in nearly a decade, having last won it in 1998.

There are plenty of other firsts you could include as Williams basically had a Hall of Fame career at UNC alone, never mind his prior Kansas career. I think we’re all optimistic at where the program will go with Hubert Davis in charge, but we’re all going to miss Roy. Thank you for everything.