There is no good way to lose the crown. Perhaps a close game might have been more honorable, but it would have been no less unbearable. Maybe had the Aggies shot a preposterous percentage we could have taken solace in the fact that every dog has its day. But a loss is a loss and, in my opinion, the Tar Heels lost to a better team that was a nightmare matchup for us. That’s hard to swallow, but swallow it we must. And once we have, let’s take a moment to appreciate two special young men that we saw play their last game in Carolina blue.
Here are three things learned from Sunday night:
You miss shots, you lose
Not a lot of analysis needed here. The Tar Heels were abysmal shooting the ball, particularly from behind the three-point line, where they were 6-31. Credit the Aggies for their strong transition defense, which took away many of the chances that Carolina’s perimeter game thrives on. But nothing that A&M did explains how UNC could lay such a goose egg shooting the ball. They had plenty of good looks, especially in the first half, they just didn’t make them.
In past tournament exits, there have been some Carolina shooters that bore the brunt of the criticism for poor shooting performances: Rick Fox in 91, Dante Calabria in 95, Shammond Williams in 97 and 98. Yesterday there was plenty of blame to go around: NO ONE could get it going: Cam Johnson was 1-7 from three, Kenny Williams was 1-5, Luke Maye 1-4. Even Joel Berry, who finished with 21 points on 7-17 shooting, missed 8 of his 10 threes.
Making things worse, the Tar Heels seemed committed to shooting their way out of their slump, which merely snowballed into a larger disaster in the first half. Rather than trying to put the ball on the deck and attacking the rim to open things up, the Heels kept firing away from deep. At some point, you’ve just got to recognize that when you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not.
Frontcourt wasn’t ready for this one
It’s been the biggest concern all season long: Will the Tar Heels’ lack of talent and experience on the interior cost them when it matters? We got our answer yesterday. Yes, there were some good moments for the baby bigs this year (Garrison Brooks against Duke, Sterling Manley against Syracuse), and Luke Maye’s brilliant junior leap was the feel good story of the season. But this was a night to forget for the UNC big men.
Coming in, there was some discussion about A&M’s size and how it could prove troubling for Carolina’s suspect front line. Our worst fears were realized: The Aggies dominated inside, outrebounding Carolina 50-36 and recording 8 blocks. Tyler Davis and Robert Williams were grown men inside and nothing that UNC tried could stop them. Luke Maye was sidelined by early foul trouble. Theo Pinson, for all his speed and guile, was helpless against the bigger post players. Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley looked totally overmatched on both ends of the court. At one point, Roy Williams tried going zone on a possession to try and mix things up: DJ Hogg drilled a wide open three.
On a night when Carolina’s shots were falling, this interior mismatch might have been overcome. But with the team shooting colder than a Rocky Mountain blizzard, there was no counterpunch. Next season, the baby bigs will be a year older and wiser, and Luke Maye will be a battle-hardened senior. There may be an elite frontline in there somewhere: After all, look at where Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Brice Johnson all started out. But last night in Charlotte, this iteration of the frontcourt wasn’t ready for the big time.
Joel Berry and Theo Pinson have had two of the best 4-year careers ever in Chapel Hill
Our two beloved seniors deserved a much better sendoff than the one they got yesterday. Last night was a miserable way to end any season, but it was compounded by the fact that it would be our final memory of two of the most beloved UNC players in recent memory.
Joel Berry and Theo Pinson will go down, along with the departed Justin Jackson, as one of the greatest and most successful classes in Carolina history. In their four years at Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels have won 118 games, two ACC Regular season championships, an ACC Tournament title, a Sweet Sixteen appearance, two National Championship game appearances, and one Big Ol’ Banner. Only Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green have accomplished more playing for Roy Williams. Joel Berry, one of the greatest winners and leaders UNC has ever had, will have his jersey in the rafters. And rafters or not, Theo Pinson will always have a unique and special place in our hearts.
When the class of 2014 committed to Chapel Hill, they did so under the looming shadow of an academic scandal. Unlike their predecessors, they knew exactly what they were getting into. They had been told that UNC was destined for sanctions, for postseason bans, for scandal. They came anyway, choosing to believe in Roy Williams and what he was selling. Despite whatever we may tell ourselves, with all of that now behind us, those three young men took a big gamble. That gamble paid off. And not because they were lucky, but because they made their own luck. That trio worked as hard as any Tar Heels before them, played the game the Carolina Way as well as any Tar Heels before them, and won glory as much as any Tar Heels before them.
Last night doesn’t change that.