CHARLOTTE — The second seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team had no answers for forward Robert Williams or center Tyler Davis.
The Tar Heels thought they might — at least for the first 10 minutes of their 86-65 loss to Texas A&M on Sunday — but it didn't last for long.
Texas A&M's Williams and Davis posed a significant size advantage over 6-foot-8 forwards Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson, UNC’s tallest starters.
“We knew we had an advantage in some areas,” Williams said. “We just tried to take advantage of (it).”
Yet, that didn’t seem to matter midway through the first half as the Tar Heel defense held up while the offense built a 20-13 lead. Seniors Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson stripped Davis twice in the paint in the early minutes, forcing the Aggies' leading scorer to miss his first two shots, while holding Williams, a future NBA lottery pick, to just one basket for most of the first half.
Texas A&M's Williams checked out not even four minutes into the game, but he wasn’t ready to give up yet. When he checked in for Davis at the 11:59 mark, the two exchanged a few words that would motivate them toward a win for the rest of the game.
“It’s 0-0, be a beast,” Williams recalled saying to his fellow big man. “Be a machine. No one can stop you.”
Davis started to play like no one could get in his way — and Williams aided him on the defensive side of the ball. When North Carolina started to miss shots from the 3-point line, the two Aggies started to heat up.
“We just started settling for outside shots and, you know, the three wasn't going in,” Berry said. “And then on the defense end for us, their big guys got going and it was just tough.
“I think we just stopped being aggressive after we got the lead, and that's why everything turned around.”
It would be a moment that would eventually decide who was moving on to the Sweet Sixteen.
The rest of the first half played out as if the game had actually started over again like Williams and Davis wanted. The Tar Heels couldn’t find a basket for 7:33 — shooting 0-for-7 from the field in that stretch, including several bad 3-point attempts — while Texas A&M went on a 19-2 run into the lead. By the time Maye finally stopped the bleeding with four minutes left in the half, it was already too late.
“When we got up, we didn’t want to lose the lead,” Williams said. “We wanted to play harder than them.”
And that’s what Texas A&M did.
Davis scored nine of his team’s first 15 points to finish during the run, and he ended with 13 points and seven rebounds for the half.
“I knew I had to be in attack mode,” Davis said. “I didn’t start off sharp, I missed a couple easy shots, but I just kept playing and being aggressive.”
Williams made his mark, not necessarily on the offensive side of the stat sheet, but on the defensive end by blocking a shot and pulling down seven defensive rebounds that helped his team lead 42-28 lead going into halftime.
The Tar Heels’ reaction to losing the lead was to turn to the deep ball. They shot 13 3-pointers but only made one, shooting an abysmal 7.7 percent from three for the first half.
In the second half, it only got uglier for North Carolina. Texas A&M’s lead grew to as much as 24 points, while the Tar Heels tried to make as many 3-pointers to come back as they could. The presence of Williams and Davis no longer allowed them access to the paint — but making five out of 18 second-half 3-pointers was not enough to come back.
“We've beaten people up over the years and the tables were reversed today,” head coach Roy Williams said. “We've been able to mask the problem all year long by making enough jump shots and getting to the free throw line, doing some things.