The North Carolina men’s basketball team couldn’t progress past the Sweet Sixteen in an up-and-down season that ultimately ended short of its hopeful final destination – Indianapolis for the Final Four. But with nearly every key player likely to return for next season, optimism reigns here in Chapel Hill.
***Listen to the story***
It’s both the tragedy and the thrill of March Madness. The single elimination format leaves no room for error. The realization that accompanies the finality of the end of a journey and with it, the pursuit of a national championship, can be hard to come to grips with – even for Roy Williams.
Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige should be returning for another shot in 2016
“The most difficult time as a coach is what to say to the kids after the last game when you lose. I feel so inadequate because there’s nothing I can say that will erase what just happened. There’s nothing I can say to make it go away. It’s not like golf – you don’t get a mulligan or anything like that,” Coach Williams says.
There’s an ultra-fine line between winning and losing – the Tar Heels know that all too well.
For the majority of their postseason contest with Notre Dame in the ACC championship game and their Sweet Sixteen showdown with Wisconsin, the Tar Heels seemingly were in control. But the rug was pulled out from under them with ruthless intention in the waning moments.
“The last three weeks, we played pretty good basketball. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to play by any means, but we played pretty good basketball. In the Notre Dame game, you take away three minutes, we win the ACC Tournament. In the Wisconsin game, you take away three minutes, we win that game,” Coach Williams says.
The sting of defeat can motivate. Coach Williams says he hopes Carolina can parlay the disappointment into a determined effort in summer workouts.
“I hope it hurts our guys as much as it does me. If it does that, we’ll work our butts off this summer, I can tell you that,” Coach Williams says.
The 2014-2015 Tar Heels finished their campaign with a 26-12 record that included an 8-3 mark on neutral courts.
But for UNC’s lofty standards, that’s nothing special. But that hasn’t dulled Coach Williams’ close-knit relationship with his players.
“I did enjoy this team. We didn’t have any knuckleheads. There was always one being a knucklehead, but it wasn’t a team full of knuckleheads. I enjoyed being with them. They’re really good kids. I have two grandsons. Everybody on my team I could say, ‘Watch these two little boys; I’ll be back in two hours.’ I would feel really comfortable,” Coach Williams says.
Coach Williams will begin his end-of-year one-on-one meetings with his players Wednesday. He’s crossing his fingers for no surprises.
Carolina will hope to be celebrating more often next year (UNC Athletics)
For the first time ever under Coach Williams, the coaching staff reviewed the game film with the entire team, of an NCAA Tournament loss.
That film session had a distinct purpose.
“I’m going to try to use that as fuel and make them hungrier to work even harder this summer – to show them one play here or a second play here, and we could be going to Indianapolis,” Coach Williams says.
With that extra “fuel” and yes, barring any unforeseen departures a la James Michael McAdoo in 2014, the Tar Heels should be locked and loaded for a legitimate run at the ACC title and a trip to Houston for the Final Four in 2016.
End-of-season notes from Steve Kirschner, UNC Athletics
• CAROLINA’s season ends at 26-12 overall and 8-3 on neutral courts.
• CAROLINA is 112-44 in 156 NCAA Tournament games. The 112 wins are second most all-time behind Kentucky.
• CAROLINA lost for the first time in the Sweet 16 since 1992. UNC had won its previous 11 Sweet 16 games since losing to Ohio State. Traevon Jackson scored four points tonight for the Badgers; in 1992, his father, Jim, had 18 points for the Buckeyes in Ohio State’s Sweet 16 win over UNC in Lexington, Ky.
• CAROLINA played 22 of its 37 games this season against NCAA Tournament teams and went 11-11 in those 22 games.
• CAROLINA is 25-7 in regional semifinal games.
• CAROLINA is 4-2 in NCAA Tournament history as a #4 seed.
• CAROLINA is 11-6 in West Regional games. The Tar Heels have reached the Final Four once in six appearances in the West Regional (1981).
• CAROLINA is 13-8 in California, including 2-3 in NCAA Tournament games and 5-6 in Los Angeles.
• CAROLINA is 7-5 in the NCAA Tournament against #1 seeds.
• CAROLINA is 2-1 against Wisconsin, including 1-1 in the NCAA Tournament (beat the Badgers in the 2005 East final in Syracuse).
• CAROLINA is 13-6 against Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. The loss to Wisconsin snapped a five-game win streak for UNC against Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament.
• ROY WILLIAMS is 750-202 in 27 seasons as a head coach and 332-101 in 12 seasons at North Carolina. His winning percentage of .788 is the sixth highest in college basketball history and first among active coaches with at least 20 years experience.
• ROY WILLIAMS is 31-9 (.775) in 25 NCAA Tournament appearances. He is tied for sixth in appearances, third in games (88) and tied with Dean Smith for second in wins (65).
• ROY WILLIAMS is 11-5 in Sweet 16 games, including 6-1 at UNC.
• CAROLINA lost for the fifth time this year when leading at the half. The Tar Heels led the Badgers, 33-31, at halftime, and Wisconsin overcame a seven-point deficit in the second half to win. UNC went 22-5 this year when leading at intermission. The losses came to Butler, at Louisville, Virginia, at home to Duke and Wisconsin.
• CAROLINA shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half, but only 42.9 percent in the second half. That was the first time in the last 10 games UNC failed to shoot 50 percent in the second half.
• CAROLINA shot 50 percent or better in eight of its last 11 halves dating back to the second half of the ACC quarterfinal win over Louisville.
• CAROLINA lost for just the second time this year in a game in which it made more three-point field goals than the opponents. UNC was 8 for 13 from three-point range, while Wisconsin was 7 for 21. The only other loss when UNC made more threes was against Iowa (UNC made four and the Hawkeyes made three on 12/3/14).
• WISCONSIN out-rebounded the Tar Heels by seven (35-28). That was the largest rebounding deficit since Iowa out-rebounded UNC, 42-26, on 12/3. Carolina was 23-7 this year when it had more rebounds and 2-4 when the opponents had more rebounds.
• CAROLINA committed only four turnovers and the Badgers committed five. By comparison, the Tar Heels and Arkansas combined for 37 in UNC’s previous game.
• The nine turnovers matched the fewest in a UNC game this season. UNC and Pitt also combined for nine on 2/14.
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers matched the fewest by UNC in Roy Williams’ 12 seasons as head coach (at Pitt, 2/14/15).
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers were the second-fewest in UNC’s 156 NCAA Tournament games. The only game UNC committed fewer was in the 1997 first round against Fairfield when the Tar Heels made a school-record two turnovers.
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers were the fewest in UNC’s 44 losses in NCAA Tournament history. The previous low for turnovers in a loss was seven against San Francisco in 1978.
• WISCONSIN’s five turnovers equal the fewest by an opponent in UNC’s 156-game NCAA Tournament history. Michigan State (1998 regional semifinal) and Auburn (1985 regional semifinal) also committed five.
• CAROLINA shot 61.5 percent from three-point range (making 8 of 13). That is the highest three-point percentage by UNC in an NCAA Tournament loss in school history. The previous best in a loss was .438 vs. Michigan (5 of 11) in the 1989 regional semifinal.
• MARCUS PAIGE made three three-point field goals. He finished the season with 94 3FGs, second-most in UNC single-season history, one behind Shammond Williams’s 95 in 1996-97.
• PAIGE has made 225 career three-pointers and is third in UNC history behind Shammond Williams (233) and Wayne Ellington (229). Only Ellington made more in three seasons.
• PAIGE has attempted 590 three-pointers in his career. That is more than any other Tar Heel. Shammond Williams was the previous record-holder with 578.
• PAIGE is 275 for 318 from the free throw line in his career. His percentage of .865 is the highest in Carolina history and the sixth-best in ACC history. Shammond Williams is second in UNC history at .849.
• PAIGE went 96 for 111 from the free throw line this season, a percentage of .865 that is the seventh-best single-season mark in UNC history for players with at least 75 makes (he shot the third-best percentage, .877, last year). He is the only Tar Heel in history to post two of the top 10 best seasons in free throw percentages.
• PAIGE scored 12 points against Wisconsin, the 30th time this season he scored in double figures. He made three 3FGs, the 41st time in 107 games he has done that.
• JUSTIN JACKSON shared team-scoring honors vs. the Badgers with 15 points. It was the 22nd time this year he scored in double figures, including 11 of the last 12 games.
• JACKSON led UNC in scoring for the sixth time this season – three of those six games came in the postseason (22 vs. Virginia in the ACC semifinals, 14 vs. Harvard in the NCAA Tournament and 15 vs. Wisconsin). He averaged 15.0 points in UNC’s three NCAA Tournament games and shot 17 for 32 from the floor (.531).
• JACKSON went three for three vs. Wisconsin from three-point range. That was the second time this season – and second time in the last five games – that he made at least three from beyond the arc. He made a season-high four vs. Virginia on 3/13.
• JACKSON made two three-pointers three times in UNC’s first 27 games and at least two 3FGs in six of the last 11 contests.
• BRICE JOHNSON also shared UNC scoring honors with 15 points on 7 of 9 field goal attempts. It was his 26th game this year scoring in double figures. He scored more points vs. Wisconsin (15) than he did in the previous two NCAA games combined (seven vs. both Harvard and Arkansas).
• NATE BRITT went 2 for 2 from the free throw line. He finished the season 60 for 68 from the line (.882). That is the second-highest single-season free throw percentage in UNC history for players with at least 60 made free throws. (Shammond Williams shot .911 in 1997-98, 133 for 146).
• BRITT is 114 for 136 in his career, a percentage of .838 that is sixth best in UNC history for players with at least 100 made free throws.
• J.P. TOKOTO was one of four Tar Heels with a team-high three assists. It was the 20th time this year Tokoto led outright or shared team honors in assists.
• ISAIAH HICKS led UNC with six rebounds. It was the first time in his career Hicks led the Tar Heels in rebounds.
• JOEL BERRY II had nine points, three assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes. It was his second-highest scoring game of the season (15 at Georgia Tech).
• WISCONSIN went 20 for 23 from the free throw line, while the Tar Heels made 12 of 18 from the line. That was the 10th time in the last 13 games the opponents attempted more free throws than UNC. The opponents attempted 68 more free throws than UNC over those 13 games and made 49 more from the line.
• WISCONSIN shot 87.0 percent from the free throw line. The Badgers were the fifth consecutive opponents in the postseason to shoot 80 percent or better from the free throw line (.800 by Virginia, .875 by Notre Dame, .900 by Harvard, .815 by Arkansas and .870 by Arkansas). Those five opponents combined to make 104 of 122 from the line for 85.2 percent.
• CAROLINA finished the season attempting 814 free throws; the opponents attempted 843. This is just the third time UNC has attempted fewer free throws than the opponents (also in 1953-54 and 2001-02). The 843 free throw attempts are the most by the opponents since 1972 (853).