On Feb. 28, 1931, Dean Smith was born, and it was in his honor that the North Carolina JV team (9-4) played on Tuesday night in a 97-80 loss to Hargrave Military Academy.
Typically, the team takes the court in the Smith Center, three hours before the varsity team.
But tonight was all about the JV team. All about Dean Smith. And all about a historic arena, even if the result was less than ideal.
“I’ve been begging (varsity head) coach (Roy) Williams to play one nonconference game and one conference game in Carmichael,” head JV coach Hubert Davis said.
“I think this place is beautiful. The crowd atmosphere is just fantastic, and I wanted the guys to play here.”
The contest drew the team’s largest crowd of the season and fueled North Carolina. Well, for the first half at least.
“(Playing in Carmichael) was a lot different, obviously,” first-year Preston Smith said. “It was a lot smaller. The rims felt different. Everything about it was a great experience.”
But the atmosphere was not enough motivation for the Tar Heels to pull out a win, dropping their third game in a row.
Overall, UNC didn’t seem headed to a loss — but the score reflects a collapse in the final four minutes of the game, when the magic of Carmichael seemed to wear out.
Hargrave, the 2016 National Prep Championship winners, came into the game boasting 10 players committed to college programs. The Tar Heels fell to Hargrave 92-78 in their 2016 matchup.
A 3-pointer by sophomore Jeremy Werden sent UNC into halftime with a 42-41 lead. The momentum seemed to favor the Tar Heels.
Led by junior Kane Ma, UNC barreled off to a 62-58 lead to start the second half, but turnovers — 18 in total — would come to haunt them, and the Tar Heels would never again see the lead.
“It really was turnovers,” Davis said. “That’s something we talked about in the beginning of the game — always make the easy play. We don’t need a SportsCenter play, we just need singles, and that’s something that we got away from in the latter part of the second half.”
UNC found itself slipping behind in a matter of seconds. First by eight points, then by 13, and finally, two Hargrave dunks sealed the Tar Heels’ fate: a 17-point loss in a game they once controlled.
But despite the loss, the sheer experience of playing in Carmichael allowed the Tar Heels to file out with their heads held high.
“I wanted these guys to experience playing in here where Michael Jordan and James Worthy and Matt Doherty and Kenny Smith played, and I’m thankful that Hargrave allowed us to play them here tonight,” Davis said.
Perhaps Coach Williams will follow suit with the varsity team.