“I wouldn’t trade my kids for anybody,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “It’s been an unbelievable ride and they’ve been an unbelievable group of kids. And they really made coaching fun.
“We’ve had some adversity and they just kept it together and kept coming back, just like they did today.”
The Tar Heels saw five premature departures from the team between the end of last season and Sunday, but the players that were left stepped up their play to make up for all the departures.
On an individual level, Harrison Barnes has gone from being serenaded with “overrated” chants at each and every visiting arena to finishing his season with the fourth-most points by a freshman in the history of North Carolina basketball.
He fell just short of carrying the Tar Heels to the next round, scoring eight points in 61 seconds with just more than five minutes remaining to keep North Carolina afloat.
Kendall Marshall turned in the third-most assists in North Carolina freshman history, while playing fewer minutes than both Ed Cota and Raymond Felton, the two point guards ahead of him.
“I’m very proud of some of the things we accomplished,” Marshall said. “We’ll be better as a team, but it hurts right now.”
North Carolina’s season tempered all of the players into a cohesive unit that saw itself reach what were unimaginable heights just four months ago.
“We’ve really come together and made strides,” Marshall said. “We achieved some of our goals, but one of them was to make the Final Four. We didn’t reach it, but I would definitely say we’ve had a successful season.”
The Tar Heels can now close the book on a 2010-2011 season that fluctuated from highly touted to unranked, then back as the ACC regular season champions.
“We jelled together more, that was a key factor,” sophomore Leslie McDonald said.
“I thought we really brought the joy of playing basketball back to Carolina.”
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