Last week’s edition of the Top 25 featured two noble efforts in a losing cause. Never fear, Tar Heel fans; this week is all Ws. And one of those Ws might just be the sweetest of them all. Here are our next five:
20. Donald Williams Lights Up Duke in 1993
The ‘93 Tar Heels were a blue-collar, defensive-minded squad that relied on its unselfishness and its overpowering physicality. Eric Montross and George Lynch were the face of the team, which pounded teams into submission in the paint. The only lingering doubt about the squad was their relative lack of perimeter threats. That went away on Senior Day in 1993 thanks to Donald Williams.
It may have George Lynch’s Senior Night, but Williams was the star. The sophomore caught fire against the defending champion Blue Devils, hitting five three-pointers on his way to 27 points. Three of those threes came during UNC’s early 1st half surge, at which point commentator Jim Valvano declared “If Carolina can get the outside game going as well as the inside...there’s no team better.”
Jimmy V was right. We’ll be revisiting Donald later in these rankings, but his explosion on Senior Night was a taste of things to come.
19. Joseph Forte Does It All at Duke in 2001
Because of how things have gone since he left Chapel Hill, one could be forgiven for forgetting just how much of a beast Joseph Forte was when he wore Carolina Blue. His freshman year was one of the best ever by a Tar Heel underclassmen and his sophomore year earned him Co-ACC Player of the Year honors with Shane Battier. Forte had many great performances in 2001 but his game in Durham was the best.
Fourth-ranked UNC upset the #2 Blue Devils in Cameron in a classic game, remembered mainly for Battier’s suicidal foul on Brendan Haywood with 1.2 seconds left. But the Heels were carried by a virtuoso performance from Forte, who tallied 24 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 assists against a fantastic Duke team playing on its home floor. That win catapulted Carolina to the #1 ranking and was the high water mark for...well...Forte, Haywood, Matt Doherty, and the 2001 season. Shame it happened in February.
18. Kendall Marshall Dishes 16 Assists in His Second Start
The 2011 season had been a roller coaster ride for Roy Williams and Co. A rash of bad losses had dropped them out of the rankings and, despite having a talented roster featuring Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson, it looked like the Heels were headed for another lost season. Williams made the call to start the freshman Marshall over his embattled veteran Larry Drew. We know what happened next: Drew fled in the night and Marshall was now the undisputed floor general.
You know that feeling when your dad hands you the keys to the family car for the first time? Marshall sure does. And he floored it. He handed out 16 dimes against Florida State, leading the Tar Heels to an easy victory and dragging a stuck-in-the-mud offense back onto the freeway. The 2011 squad never looked back, turning it around to win the ACC regular season and reach the Elite Eight. And it started on this night, which ended with Marshall leaving the court to a standing ovation from a fanbase that knew, in that moment, that everything was going to be OK.
17. Psycho T Ruins Senior Night in 2006
There have been four titles. There have been last-second game winners. There have been stunning upsets. But I will submit to you that no win in the last 25 years has been sweeter than Tyler Hansbrough and the 2006 Tar Heels beating Duke on Senior Night.
Tyler Hansbrough was already a special player by the time he and the “No-One-Believes-In-Us” Heels made their way to Cameron, but by the time the game was over, there wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that he would be one of the best ever. His 27 points against “The Landlord” Shelden Williams on his big night were as impressive as any of the JJ Redick shooting barrages ESPN subjected us to during that season. Hansbrough worked Williams in the paint and, just for good measure, drilled one of the most famous shots in Carolina history. Sorry JJ, but the biggest three on Senior Night wasn’t yours.
16. Antawn Jamison Shocks Maryland in 1996
Antawn Jamison wasn’t fair. He basically walked into Chapel Hill as a completely polished post player and tortured opposing defenses from Day One. While his Junior campaign was his best, his freshman year was brilliant (15.1 ppg and 9.7 rpg on 62% fg). No game demonstrated his “So Good, So Soon” abilities more than the game at Maryland.
Jamison went for 31 points on 14-16 shooting. His last points of the game came of a buzzer-beating stickback that silenced the crowd at Cole Field House (a place that could always use a good silencing). The shot won it 88-86 for the Heels, much to the dismay of Gary Williams who, as is his wont, argued to the refs that the shot was too late, then strode over to Dick Vitale and Mike Patrick and demanded an explanation.
I thought about putting Hansbrough’s game over this one, but Gary’s reaction bumped it up for me. Stay tuned next week for our next five which features the greatest shooting performance in Carolina history.