Roy Williams took a seat at the podium and let out a long sigh. He paused.
As he peered down at the box score below him, the breath exited his lungs and vanished into the air. The process, meant to convey the head coach’s frustration, wasn’t unlike what had just happened to the North Carolina men's basketball team minutes earlier.
After building up a seven-point lead in the second half, the No. 8 Tar Heels saw that margin diminish in the waning minutes. Eventually, what had once looked like a victory disappeared altogether as the Tar Heels seven-game win streak was snapped by No. 4 Virginia, 69-61.
“We had some chances to win the game,” Williams said, “but they made the plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”
When it mattered most, the nation-leading Virginia defense clamped down on North Carolina and left the home team — above all — disappointed. With 4:02 left to play and the game tied at 59, the Tar Heels had a chance to prove themselves against one of the best teams in the country. Instead, the offense fell apart — and the team missed 10 of its last 11 shots.
Meanwhile, Virginia took over with 10 late-game points — including two huge 3-pointers from Kyle Guy — to remedy the feeling left behind from a 10-point loss to Duke on Saturday. In the battle of offense against defense, the defense won.
"I feel like we could've won," sophomore forward Garrison Brooks said. "I feel like we had a great chance to win, we just didn't seize the opportunity."
Both teams had plenty of chances to seize the opportunity.
In the opening minutes of the game, UNC found success from the 3-point line, knocking down its first three of five shots from deep. Then, the Cavalier defense that has allowed the fewest points in the nation this season kicked in. By halftime, despite the hot start, North Carolina found itself down by seven after shooting just 35 percent from the floor.
In the second half, UNC again found success on the offensive side of the court. After the break, the team began on a 15-7 run that transformed that halftime deficit into the lead and created momentum.
At that point, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett could see where the game was headed. And he didn't like it. So he called a timeout and talked it over with his players, who had turned the ball over several times — directly leading to UNC baskets.
"I just said enough’s enough," Bennett said. "I barked at them, I really challenged them, and Ty said, we’re okay, told the guys to calm down."
Soon after, the game was back in reach. A 3-pointer from Guy, then a free throw and trey from Ty Jerome tied the game for the first time in the half. The North Carolina crowd that had been so animated died down, and the momentum was there for the taking. Virginia finished the rest from there.
Roy Williams knew how close his team was to winning the game. But that didn't matter in the end.
When he reached the final question of the night, Williams picked up his copy of the box score and meticulously folded it in half. Then he did it again, until all the numbers from the game were no longer in view.
At the conclusion of the answer, Williams tucked the sheet into his suit, grabbed his Coca-Cola cup and walked out of the room — hoping that by doing so, he might never have to look at another stat from a game that brought his team back down to earth.
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