"I've had some great moments as a coach, and I'd say right now this is my lowest one," Williams said, verging on tears. "Losing this game was my fault. I told them if I die tomorrow, or 20 years from now, that will be the biggest regret I have in 32 years as a coach, cause these kids really need to win and their coach let them down today."
The heartbreak was palpable as the Dean E. Smith Center emptied as soon as Brandon Robinson's last second attempt banged off the side of the rim; the silence so loud as to drown out any murmurs that may have otherwise echoed after a game.
And when it came time to answer for what had just happened on the court? There was emptiness in the eyes of both Williams and his players. How could there be anything else?
"It kinda sucks being a player and hearing that from your coach," said junior guard Andrew Platek about Williams' taking the blame on himself. "... I don't know, I'm exhausted right now. All of the other guys are too, we really played hard and I feel like we tried hard. We just gotta play better."
The Tar Heels looked like they would finally put together a complete game, up 10 with 2:08 left in the game, before Clemson forced UNC into turnover after turnover and hit shot after shot until the air had been sucked out of the arena.
If North Carolina never wins another game this season — if it takes until 2020-21 for Roy Williams to finally pass Dean Smith in all-time wins — there won't be another loss that hurts quite like this one. It's the nature of a game that can give so much, and take away even more.
"After the game I was devastated," Robinson said. "I had my head down in my locker, and Christian (Keeling) was the first person to come up and say something to me. He said, 'Pick your head up, you have to keep believing that we can turn this things around.'"
Garrison Brooks said almost nothing after the game. What more was there to say that hadn't been said by Williams, or wouldn't be said by a public more than willing to criticize a group of 20-year-olds?
Losing the game meant losing one of the longest, strangest winning streaks in college basketball, but it meant so much more more. Wins are expected of North Carolina. Excellence is expected; everything is expected. This team hasn't yet been able to deliver on the expectations thrust upon them.
If these were the same players at any other school, playing for any other coach, this would simply be a bad stretch in the middle of an average season. But these players play for North Carolina, under Roy Williams, and so they promise Chapel Hill the world just by showing up and putting on the uniform. And when they lose, it means the Carolina Blue sky is falling.
The team is what it is. The losses are the losses. The streak is dead, and UNC killed it.
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