Hadn't the University of North Carolina learned its elementary lesson? Didn't the one-point squeaker against Binghamton do the trick? And what about the EA All-Stars taking UNC to school? This isn't the Tar Heel basketball of old, and the Tar Heels of all people should know that by now. Right?
"Mentally, we were running up and down the court like, 'Hey, these guys are Ohio,'" said Melvin Scott. "But we looked up and we were down 15. Then we tried to start playing. We should've had that attitude at the beginning, no matter who we were playing."
They didn't. Despite a rally in four late minutes to close an 18-point hole to three, the Tar Heels went back to the chalkboard scratching their heads after an 86-78 loss Wednesday to Ohio at the Smith Center.
"I'm disappointed in our effort," said UNC coach Matt Doherty. "We didn't seem to be emotionally into it for the first 32 1/2 minutes. For what reason, I have no idea."
Doherty could only question his players' energy level; answers escaped him.
"I'd be embarrassed to say anything. I don't know. I have no idea."
The awful first-half shooting display played a role. The Tar Heels (7-17) started the evening by missing 20 of their first 26 shots en route to a 36.4-percent half. UNC found the open spots in Ohio's trapping 1-3-1 zone but just couldn't finish.
Shots from the paint weren't drawing iron. Even free throws wouldn't drop as UNC made good on one of the three attempts it managed to get. The poor early shooting by both teams (41.2 percent for Ohio before the break) prompted assistant coach Doug Wojcik to attempt a substitution -- for the ball. His request was denied.
"I think it started with our inability to make shots there for a while," Adam Boone said.
The Bobcats (16-8) got over their not-so-stellar shooting in a flurry out of the locker room. Steve Esterkamp, who led all scorers with 23, assaulted the Tar Heels' defense with nine points in the second half's first 2:50 to catapult his team back to a double-digit advantage.
Down 18 with 6:08 remaining, it appeared as if the Tar Heels, much like their season, were done and done. That was until Boone converted a four-point play and Jawad Williams, listed as doubtful for the game with a sprained ankle, exploded for 10 points in four minutes. The run brought the Tar Heels, who never led, and the crowd back into the game. The tardy burst didn't cut it.
"It's a team we should have beat," Jason Capel said. "We just didn't come out with the necessary energy. It's our fault."
And another David went home with memories of slaying Goliath.
Said Esterkamp, "It's just something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life, and everybody else on the team is going to remember because it's North Carolina."
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