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The Daily Tar Heel

No miracle in store for Tar Heels at ACC tournament

UNC falls in tournament’s opening round

GREENSBORO — It was one and done in the ACC Tournament for the North Carolina men’s basketball team.

The formula for UNC’s latest loss — a 62-58 defeat to Georgia Tech (22-12) — was a familiar one. Too many turnovers, too many missed shots and too much inexperience down the stretch.

“It’s extremely disappointing, to say the least, but it’s been that kind of year,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “The bottom line is we couldn’t make a shot.

“It’s been the kind of year that I’d never imagined, never had to go through, and I hope we never have to go through it again.”

The Tar Heels (16-16) couldn’t muster a field goal in the game’s final 5:13, and the team shot just a hair better than 33 percent for the entire game.

North Carolina’s starting guards were the main culprits.

Sophomore Larry Drew II and junior Will Graves combined to go a frosty 3-for-21 from the field, including a paltry 1-for-12 from the 3-point line.

Shooting numbers like those — along with several untimely turnovers — helped the Yellow Jackets erase a 10-point halftime deficit in a matter of minutes.

By the first media timeout with 15:21 remaining in the half, Ga. Tech had already stepped into the lead.

After that quick run, the game was back and forth until the final minutes.

Ga. Tech’s defense then proceeded to tighten up and deny UNC an easy opportunities at the basket.

“We had good shots, bad shots, easy shots,” a subdued Drew said afterward. “It just seemed like nothing was going in.”

A Graves 3-point attempt near the end of the second half summed up UNC’s struggles.

The shot was tantalizingly close — it rimmed all the way around the basket — but ultimately lipped out and denied UNC a chance to get within one possession of the Yellow Jackets with less than two minutes to play.

Ga. Tech coach Paul Hewitt had a simpler explanation for how his team trimmed UNC’s lead so quickly after intermission.

“Start guarding,” Hewitt said with a laugh. “I just think it was a case of us not being in our stance and not really digging in.”

The loss spoiled forward Tyler Zeller’s first career double-double, a 17-point, 10-rebound performance which set the tone for a tough and physical effort from UNC.

It was Zeller’s highest scoring output since a non-conference game against Marshall.

Senior Deon Thompson was the only other Tar Heel in double figures, with 10 points.

The defeat sent UNC into bubble trouble — for the NIT, not the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina snuck its way into the lower tier tournament Sunday, and Williams made it clear he has no qualms about participating in it.

He said he just wants his young team to get a few more games under its belt.

“If somebody’s going to invite me to play, I’m going to go play. Period, the end,” Williams said.

But one thing is for sure for Williams and UNC. The next North Carolina loss will be its last, and a painful season for the program will finally come to an end.

Not that this year’s team wants it to, however.

Drew spoke in earnest after the game about wanting to keep playing to get better, and Zeller echoed those sentiments.

“I don’t know if there will be a sense of relief, but I will use it as motivation for next year,” Zeller said. “I need to find something and turn it around and make it a positive. It has been frustrating.”

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