Tar Heels fall to the Kansas Jayhawks for the second consecutive season
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With just more than a minute left on the game clock, North Carolina’s fate against Kansas all but determined, coach Roy Williams pulled his five starters off the court.
One by one, the Tar Heels somberly trudged back to the bench. There they sat, stone-faced, as North Carolina’s season came to a screeching halt against the Jayhawks with a 70-58 loss in front of what was practically a home crowd.
Reggie Bullock, UNC’s lone returning starter from last season’s NCAA Tournament run, sat slumped in his chair, a towel draped over his head as the final seconds ticked away.
“It was tough for me to watch,” said Bullock, fighting back tears.
“I’m just here right now with my teammates and just thinking about so many things that could have went differently in that game.”
No. 8-seeded UNC shot an abysmal 26 percent in the first half, the top-seeded Jayhawks an even worse 25 percent. UNC, however, took advantage of the Jayhawks’ misses, and used scrappy defense and 11 points off turnovers to take a nine-point lead into halftime.
Kansas, which shot 63 percent in the second half, came back after the break with a vengeance. The Jayhawks had an 11-1 run early in the second half. North Carolina, on the other hand, wasn’t able to counter.
“We just couldn’t ever turn that corner and get something to go down,” Marcus Paige said. “We knew we could win the game even if we didn’t shoot particularly well, but after they made that run we needed some shots to go down and we just couldn’t get any.”
After switching to a smaller yet more successful lineup in February, something the reluctant coach said he rarely does, Williams was worried about how his team would fare on the boards and on its inside game.
Against Kansas and big man Jeff Withey, second in the NCAA in blocked shots per game, Williams’ worry became a reality. The Jayhawks outrebounded UNC 50-36, and Withey, who blocked five shots, had his way with the meeker Tar Heels on both ends of the court.
“It was definitely a nightmare in the second half, there’s no question about that,” Williams said. “I tried to get the best five basketball players on the court for us. We knew we were giving up some rebounding, but we knew we were adding some things offensively from the perimeter.”
UNC went 6-for-21 from the outside, and multiple times in the second half the Tar Heels used a 3-pointer to make a dent in Kansas’ lead. Twice, however, the Jayhawks responded with one of their own. Kansas hit five shots from beyond the arc Sunday, all of which came in the second half.
Sunday’s outcome marks the third time in six years the Jayhawks, a team Williams coached for 15 years, have ended UNC’s season.
Last year after top-seeded UNC fell to Kansas, the weight of a season full of lofty expectations seemed to have come crashing down on them. This go-around, the mood was perhaps a little different, almost as if the outcome was expected.
“Nobody thought we’d be in the ACC championship. Nobody thought we would beat Villanova and move on to the second round,” Bullock said. “We proved a lot of people wrong.”
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