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UNC Basketball: The Tar Heels’ Sweet Sixteen History in the Roy Williams Era

Generally, things have been pretty sweet...

North Carolina Tar Heels v Gonzaga Bulldogs Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

On Friday night, the North Carolina Tar Heels will play in the Sweet Sixteen for the tenth time under head coach Roy Williams. Much was made last weekend about Ol’ Roy’s perfect record in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, but his record in the Regional Semifinals is (knocks every wood surface in sight) nearly as good. Under Williams, the Tar Heels have gone 8-1 in the Sweet Sixteen.

Here is how the previous nine games have gone:

2005 - UNC- 67 Villanova- 66

Villanova Wildcats v North Carolina Tar Heels Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Remember back when it felt like WE were the ones who had one on Nova? That began in 2005 in Syracuse, when the Tar Heels topped the Wildcats in a back and forth battle that came down to the final seconds. Nova played a terrific defensive first half, leading 33-29 at the half, but the Tar Heels seized control in the second half. UNC led by 10 with 3:30 to go, before Jay Wright’s squad, led by Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry, staged a furious comeback.

The signature moment of the game was when Allan Ray, his team down three points with 9 seconds left, appeared to convert a three-point play that was waved off: He was whistled for a (let’s be honest, pretty dubious) travel. UNC held on to finish the game at the foul line.

Sean May (14 points and 10 rebounds) and Marvin Williams (16 points and 5 rebounds) led the team, despite rough shooting nights for Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Jawad Williams.

2007: UNC- 74 USC- 64

NCAA Regional - East Rutherford: USC v UNC Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Led by Nick Young and Taj Gibson, the 5th-seeded Trojans were giving UNC all they could handle by the early stages of the second half: USC led 49-33 at the 17-minute mark, they were dunking everything in sight, and Tyler Hansbrough was having the worst night of his college career. Then the Tar Heels ratcheted things up on the defensive end and made a comeback for the ages.

Brandan Wright stepped up big, finishing with 21 points and 9 rebounds, but Marcus Ginyard was equally heroic, wreaking havoc on the offensive glass midway through the second half, collecting three straight offensive boards and converting them into putbacks. In addition, Gibson spent much of the half in foul trouble and without his presence the Trojans were helpless on the interior.

The Heels held USC to just 22 second half points and won by double digits. Gibson and Young finished with 16 and 15 respectively.

2008: UNC- 68 Washington State- 47

Washington State v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The top-ranked Tar Heels didn’t play their best offensive game of the season, falling well below their season averages, but the Cougars were downright dreadful, shooting 32% from the field and 13% from three. The Tar Heels had faced questions about their defense through much of the 2007-08 season, but they looked pretty darn good on that end that particular night.

Hansbrough led the way with 18 points and 9 rebounds, and Danny Green chipped in with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals off the bench.

2009: UNC- 98 Gonzaga- 77

North Carolina Tar Heels v Gonzaga Bulldogs Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

This was the game that reminded everyone why the 2009 Tar Heels were the overwhelming favorites to win it all when the season began. The Heels battered the Bulldogs with an offensive barrage that Mark Few’s squad was powerless to stop. UNC finished 53% from the field and hit 11 of their 19 three-point attempts. Few said after the game, “When they’re shooting the ball like that...nobody’s beating them.”

Ty Lawson, whose health was in question coming in due to his lingering ankle injury, set the tone early with 17 first half points. Hansbrough went for 24 points and 10 rebounds on 8-10 shooting and Wayne Ellington, on a roll all tournament long, scored 19. Carolina’s offensive dominance would continue all the way to Ford Field the following weekend.

2011: UNC- 81 Marquette- 63

Marquette v North Carolina Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

Don’t let the scoreline fool you: It merely says “rout.” A more appropriate term would be “obliteration.” The Tar Heels jumped out on the overmatched Golden Eagles early and never looked back. UNC led 40-15 at the half and stretched their lead into the thirties at one point in the second. Carolina’s vaunted frontline of Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes was dominant: Zeller finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds, Barnes with 20 points and 9 rebounds, and Henson tallied 14 points, 12 boards, and five blocks.

The one of Henson’s blocks came against Marquette’s Jae Crowder, along with Henson’s exclamation “Gimme that s**t!” which Crowder took exception to. Henson, per usual, merely laughed at him. It was that kind of night.

2012: UNC- 73 Ohio University- 65 (OT)

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Ohio v North Carolina

Personally, in my two-plus decades of watching Carolina basketball, I don’t believe there has ever been a Tar Heel tournament victory that has felt more Pyrrhic and agonizing. The Tar Heels went into the Sweet Sixteen without the injured Kendall Marshall (his wrist the victim of the brute tactics by a gutless Creighton squad the weekend earlier) and his absence was...noticeable.

The Tar Heels appeared to have caught a break when matched up with 13th-seeded Ohio University, but from the start they were disjointed and mistake-prone. UNC finished with TWENTY FOUR turnovers and didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, either from the field or at the line. What they did do exceptionally well was rebound, ripping down 63 boards to Ohio U’s 30.

Tyler Zeller had one of his best efforts as a Tar Heel, going for 20 points and 22 rebounds, but he also committed 6 turnovers. Five more came from Harrison Barnes, who went a dreadful 3-16 from the field. Strong efforts from Reggie Bullock and John Henson also helped the Tar Heels survive in overtime, but by the time everyone took a deep breath it was clear: this team was doomed without their point guard.

2015: Wisconsin- 79 UNC- 72

North Carolina v Wisconsin Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

A UNC team that had suffered heartbreaking second halves all year ended its season on a familiar sour note. The Tar Heels held a seven-point lead over the favored, veteran Badgers with 11 minutes left in the game. Then Bo Ryan’s squad took control, taking the lead at the six-minute mark and never relinquishing it again.

Sam Dekker had a big night, going for 23 points and 10 rebounds, most coming early in the game to withstand a plucky Tar Heel effort. National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky went for 19 points and 8 rebounds. UNC was led by Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson, both of whom had 15 points apiece. The two teams combined for just 9 total turnovers in a hard fought, well played contest between two squads that would be playing in the next three National Championship games.

2016: UNC- 101 Indiana- 86

NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Indiana v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

One year after being dispatched by a red-clad Big Ten opponent in the Sweet 16, the Tar Heels buried one early. Marcus Paige nailed four three-pointers in the first five minutes of the game to get things started, and UNC held a 16-point lead by the time the under 8-minute timeout hit. Indiana never got close and the Heels finished with a breezy 15-point victory.

Paige ended with 21 points (6-9 from 3) and Brice Johnson went for 20 points and 10 rebounds. All five Tar Heel starters scored in double figures. Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams paced the Hoosiers with 25 and 21 respectively.

2017: UNC- 92 Butler- 80

Butler v North Carolina Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

For the second straight season, the Heels delivered an offensive barrage against a team from the Hoosier State. Joel Berry led the way with 26 points and Justin Jackson added 24. Butler was led by Andrew Chrabascz, who delivered 21 points and 7 rebounds. The Heels were never truly threatened. Indeed, the scariest part of the evening came when Berry, already hobbled, appeared to re-injure his right foot late in the second half, though he would play the rest of the tournament out.

The unexpected contributor on the night was Luke Maye, who added 16 points and 12 rebounds; his first career double-double (first of many). Man, oh man, what would happen to him two days later...