No. 8-seeded UNC shot an abysmal 26 percent in the first half, the top-seeded Jayhawks an even worse 25 percent. UNC, however, took advantage of the Jayhawks’ misses, and used scrappy defense and 11 points off turnovers to take a nine-point lead into halftime.
Kansas, which shot 63 percent in the second half, came back after the break with a vengeance. The Jayhawks had an 11-1 run early in the second half. North Carolina, on the other hand, wasn’t able to counter.
“We just couldn’t ever turn that corner and get something to go down,” Marcus Paige said. “We knew we could win the game even if we didn’t shoot particularly well, but after they made that run we needed some shots to go down and we just couldn’t get any.”
After switching to a smaller yet more successful lineup in February, something the reluctant coach said he rarely does, Williams was worried about how his team would fare on the boards and on its inside game.
Against Kansas and big man Jeff Withey, second in the NCAA in blocked shots per game, Williams’ worry became a reality. The Jayhawks outrebounded UNC 50-36, and Withey, who blocked five shots, had his way with the meeker Tar Heels on both ends of the court.
“It was definitely a nightmare in the second half, there’s no question about that,” Williams said. “I tried to get the best five basketball players on the court for us. We knew we were giving up some rebounding, but we knew we were adding some things offensively from the perimeter.”
UNC went 6-for-21 from the outside, and multiple times in the second half the Tar Heels used a 3-pointer to make a dent in Kansas’ lead. Twice, however, the Jayhawks responded with one of their own. Kansas hit five shots from beyond the arc Sunday, all of which came in the second half.
Sunday’s outcome marks the third time in six years the Jayhawks, a team Williams coached for 15 years, have ended UNC’s season.
Last year after top-seeded UNC fell to Kansas, the weight of a season full of lofty expectations seemed to have come crashing down on them. This go-around, the mood was perhaps a little different, almost as if the outcome was expected.
“Nobody thought we’d be in the ACC championship. Nobody thought we would beat Villanova and move on to the second round,” Bullock said. “We proved a lot of people wrong.”
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