The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, April 25, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels unable to get over the hump in NIT title game

Dayton resilient down the stretch

Roy Williams talks with Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and John Henson. DTH/Katherine Vance
Roy Williams talks with Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and John Henson. DTH/Katherine Vance

NEW YORK – In the second half of Dayton’s 79-68 win against North Carolina, the Tar Heels scratched and clawed into the Flyers’ double-digit halftime lead to cut the margin to three points or fewer eight times.

Each time induced the same reaction from the crowd. UNC fans would stand and attempt to will their team into the lead, and the noise from the large UD contingent in Madison Square Garden would become muffled.

But all eight times, the Tar Heels simply didn’t have enough make the next step.

Photo slideshow

See photos from the game.

“We just didn’t finish the job,” coach Roy Williams said. “We made a nice run early in the second half and just could never get over the hump.”

Sometimes it was simply great execution on offense by Dayton (25-12). Teammates Chris Johnson and Marcus Johnson made four 3-pointers combined in the second half, three of those occurring when UNC (20-17) had cut the lead to one possession.

Dayton made a ho-hum 11-for-31 3-point shots for the game, but its players came up clutch when they needed to be.

“Every time they hit a shot you’d be like, ‘Gah!’” point guard Larry Drew II said.

Other times, it was simply the Flyers outhustling and outworking North Carolina on the offensive glass.

While the Tar Heels dominated the boards Tuesday night against Rhode Island in the NIT semifinals, Dayton fought its way to a 41-34 rebounding edge in the title game. Eight of those were of the offensive variety, leading to nine second-chance points in the second half.

“I think they just gave a superb effort,” forward Tyler Zeller said. “They were going after each loose ball harder than we were,”

The fact that the Tar Heels had drilled themselves for this exact situation made the missed opportunities even tougher to swallow.

During timeouts, the team would remind itself of its ‘Stop, score, stop’ competitions in practice and try to carry over it to the game.

In that particular drill, UNC players split into two teams and scrimmage each other to see which squad could sandwich two defensive stops around a made basket. The competition becomes a hotly contested affair between the Blue and White teams, with the winner gaining all important bragging rights for the night.

And while the Tar Heels sometimes were able to grab a defensive stop with the score within one possession, they couldn’t complete the score part of the competition afterward.

“The whole time, especially down the stretch, we were just like, ‘OK, guys this is what we practice for,’ Drew said. “It’s definitely a lot easier said than done. When a team’s on fire like it seems like they were, it’s pretty hard.”

But for all the effort put into the comeback – the Tar Heels went on a 12-1 run to open the second half and Will Graves scored 19 points after intermission – Dayton proved too resilient for UNC to sneak into the lead.

Unlike their first four NIT games, Tar Heels’ best punch down the stretch was met by an even stronger right hook from the Flyers.

“It’s frustrating. It’s been happening to us all season it seems like,” point guard Larry Drew II said. “It’s just like it’s either you’re going to make plays and get stops or you’re not going to make plays and get stops.”

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@unc.edu.