The NCAA Tournament produced several moments that will live on forever for North Carolina fans. Like most national championship teams, the whole season was also chock full of memorable moments. This year’s team especially played in some memorable games and went on quite a ride.
6. Overtime in Clemson
Carolina was coming off a loss to Georgia Tech to open the ACC slate when they went to Clemson on On January 3rd. They very nearly walked out 0-2 in the conference. Instead they got a fairly important win.
After trailing by as many as seven, Joel Berry went nuts, scoring 21 second-half points to give UNC a three-point lead with two minutes left. Some sloppy defense allowed a three-pointer from the Tigers’ Marquise Reed to send the game into overtime. After blowing a lead late in the game, the Tar Heels could have folded up and lost to a perfectly decent Clemson team on the road. Instead, they ground out a three-point overtime win that made Brad Brownell angry in the post-game handshake line. The overtime period was a good example of this Carolina team’s ability to grind out wins in crunch time, which they would do several times in the NCAA Tournament.
5. The Florida State win
Carolina faced a big test when it welcomed #9 Florida State to Chapel Hill on January 14th. What came out of it was a complete team victory that really showed what was to come.
Three different Tar Heels scored over 20 points as UNC beat FSU 96-83. Berry and Justin Jackson each knocked down three three-pointers, while Isaiah Hicks went for 22, including going 12-14 from the free throw line. The game also was the real breakout performance for Luke Maye. Kennedy Meeks was limited to just 13 minutes, and Maye stepped up in his absence by grabbing 15 rebounds. It was Theo Pinson’s third game back from injury and arguably his best game of the season. Pinson went for 12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and threw down this dunk:
4. The State beatdown
This year’s NC State team was not very good. However, beating them is always satisfying. Beating them by 51 is quite something. From tip off in the game in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels were all over the Wolfpack and didn’t stop until the game was over. UNC went on two separate runs of scoring 20 or more unanswered points. Carolina was up 33 at halftime.
In the second meeting of the season, State would play a much better game and keep UNC’s final margin of victory to just 24 points.
3. Maui Invitational Champions
For the third time under Roy Williams, and the fourth time ever, UNC won the Maui Invitational. The Tar Heels knocked off Chaminade, Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin to win the title. The final in particular was a sign of things to come on how good this team could be. Carolina held the eventual Sweet 16 and Villanova upset-ing Badgers to 56 points and just 38% shooting. Like what happened in the 2004 and 2008 Maui Invitationals, it was a precursor to another tournament win later in the season.
2. Roy’s 800th win
For whatever reason, there is still a segment of the UNC fan base that doesn’t like Roy Williams. The national championship is obviously proof of that opinion being unreasonable, but so was a mid-January home win over Syracuse. On January 16th, North Carolina beat the Orange 85-68, to give Williams his 800th career win. He became the second fastest coach to reach that total, trailing only Adolf Rupp. The win itself was a run of the mill 17-point victory over a non-tournament team, but the significance of it should not be lost.
1. The ceiling is the roof
In the regular season finale, Carolina hosted Duke in Chapel Hill. Like the matchup earlier in the season in Durham, the two teams played a closely contested, back and forth game. The Tar Heels pulled away late and won 90-83, led by Berry’s 28 points. Thanks to a Notre Dame loss earlier in the day, the Tar Heels had already clinched the outright ACC regular season title, but this win ensured a two-game margin in the final standings. Then of course, there was a halftime appearance by Michael Jordan that created a saying that will live on in Carolina lore for a long time, even if it might not make total sense.