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UNC Basketball: Las Vegas Invitational Journal - Part 2

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Turns out it’s a lot more fun to win than lose in this town

2018 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational - UCLA v North Carolina Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

From what I’ve been able to pick up around town over the last few days, a real Vegas pro would describe Carolina’s win over UCLA on Friday in the following way:

“After a Bad Beat in Hoops LN, the Chalk was able to cover thanks to the trio of rookie Triple Sharps that the Wise Guy brought in in the offseason.”

To those of us who occupy the civilized world, the summary would be, “After a frustrating loss to Texas, the favored Tar Heels bounced back with a strong win over UCLA, thanks to its talented trio of freshmen.”

Until the Tar Heels’ brilliant second half, Friday afternoon was shaping up to be a masterclass in deja vu. Lennie Rosenbluth occupied the same seat in the house. Our fellow Tar Heel fans were decked out in the same sky blue gear, as were we. The 50-50 raffle that began yesterday still did not have a winner. The UCLA fan bus never arrived at the venue. Coby White was sharp offensively and Carolina couldn’t stop a nosebleed defensively.

On Thursday, the Tar Heels surrendered 92 points to Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns. At halftime against the Bruins, they had given up 46. Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cam Johnson had largely disappointed in the first matchup, while Nassir Little had been MIA for the first 30 minutes of the game. Everything in the first half indicated that the Tar Heels’ schedule for their Vegas soiree was the following: 1) Wash 2) Rinse 3) Repeat. All around the Orleans, the crowd was asking the same question: “How on Earth is this happening again?”

One last holdover from Thursday appeared to be a universal disgust with the three gentlemen in stripes. Generally speaking (and I mean generally), we Tar Heel well-wishers are not the most vitriolic or even the most vocal of fans. Case in point, Michigan State brought a crowd equal to ours on Friday, but they made A LOT more noise. With Carolina, there is passion always, but it comes with the need to behave oneself. Sam Cassell would call this the “wine and cheese” element. The rest of us would call it manners.

On Friday, however, after one particularly dubious call, a blue-clad gentleman waited for a lull in crowd noise to get to his feet and express, in the most graphic terms, his opinion of the refs’ performance. He drew cringes from the parents of the many children present, but cheers of approval from the Tar Heel faithful. One seasoned fan sitting to our left glanced at his grandson and asked, apprehensively, if he had covered his ears during the tirade. “Nope!” replied the young boy, cheerfully.

Then second half came and the pendulum swung. The other shoe dropped. We got dealt a better hand. Or as we say; we played a lot better defense and more people started making an impact offensively. After a long, and I mean LONG, stay in the locker room at halftime, Carolina re-emerged and came out firing. Little was a force in the second half, Luke, Cam, and Kenny began knocking down shots, and Leaky, in for the foul-saddled Coby, performed brilliantly on defense.

As was the case for those watching at home, Nassir’s dunk was the highlight of the tournament for those present, another reminder of his athleticism, explosiveness, and will. The passionate reaction of the players was mirrored all around the arena by the fans; that is one moment where the Tar Heel faithful DID get loud. When Little and Leaky headed for the bench with the game in hand, they received the loudest cheers of the night. Fan favorite KJ Smith scored 5 points in 34 seconds, displaying masterful efficiency while his father cheered behind the bench. Yes, this was indeed a better way to enjoy our Tar Heels play.

One last way in which Friday night was different: The Tar Heel grandfather to our left doubled checked his ticket and discovered that he had won the 50-50 raffle. He went home with $1400 in a plastic envelope. In this town, your luck can change that quick.