The Tar Heels had one of those games we all knew could happen.
Considering the size of Texas A&M and Carolina’s reliance on outside shooting, the one-sided loss that ended the 2018 season was really not very hard to explain.
Playing in Charlotte was a huge advantage for the Heels, one they earned by finishing the regular season and ACC tournament strong. But it was an edge they needed to exploit, and it lasted only eight minutes or so before the Aggies took complete control of the game by going to a zone.
Carolina beat Duke’s zone twice and the Syracuse zone twice, and Texas A&M’s was no better than those defenses. But settling for too many jumpers proved fool’s gold that ended an exhilarating and fascinating run for UNC basketball.
A&M’s 15-0 spurt lasted more than six minutes, allowing the tall Texans to negate the home-state disadvantage and to build confidence that turned the game into a rout. Once Carolina lost control of it, you could tell it was going to be a long day. Roy Williams’ 15th Carolina team provided us with some incredible moments, and answered questions we all had coming in. Where would the inside game come from with Meeks, Hicks, Brice and Bradley gone?
But a so-called small lineup featuring their best five basketball players gave us some things we’ve never seen before – dynamic cutting, screening and passing that made it fun to watch. Clearly, Carolina had to shoot the ball well to win. That was always the big “if” without a dominant inside game.
Remember these are still 18 to 20 year-old kids, and who could blame them – especially with a 20-13 lead – for thinking this was going to be another easy win in their home state? So, when the zone was not penetrable, they kept firing up the outside shots that had led to big wins over Duke and other opponents his season.
Their refusal to go in and Texas A&M scoring so easily on its end had to be both shocking and deflating for Ol’ Roy’s young guys. And once the Aggies learned that the light-blue festooned venue wasn’t so daunting and could be quieted, they ended Carolina’s season swiftly with their own brand of swagger.
It might not be a season to remember like some others, but with enough great moments and the personalities that created them, it will still be one hard to forget.