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The Daily Tar Heel

North Carolina knocked out in ACC first round

Travis Wear (43), John Henson (31) and Leslie McDonald (15) look on as the final minutes tick away. DTH/Daniel Sircar
Travis Wear (43), John Henson (31) and Leslie McDonald (15) look on as the final minutes tick away. DTH/Daniel Sircar

GREENSBORO – It’s 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 (20-11) – 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,” 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 5:38, and the team shot just a hair above 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 three-point line.

Shooting number like those – along with several untimely turnovers – helped Ga. Tech erase a 10-point halftime deficit in a matter of minutes and hang around with the Tar Heels until the game’s final minutes.

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

A Graves three-point attempt near the end of the second half summed it UNC’s struggles. The shot rimmed all the way in and out of the basket, denying 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.

The defeat sends UNC into bubble trouble – for the NIT, not the NCAA Tournament.

But if the Tar Heels are invited to play, Williams said he wants his team to go.

“If somebody’s going to invite me to play, I’m going to go play. Period, the end,” Williams said. “Are we worthy enough to be invited? That I don’t know.”

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 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 similar sentiments.

“I don’t know if there will be a sense of relief, but I will use it as motivation for net 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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