Roy Williams entered the postgame interview visibly emotional.
The longtime North Carolina head coach had to wipe tears from his eyes and quickly apologized when he had to pull down his Carolina Blue facemask to blow his nose. When he started to speak, his voice cracked.
“The last game of the year is always extremely emotional,” he said.
There’s a reason people don’t like endings. They're abrupt and often unforeseen. They're final and resolute, dissolving any and all hopes of a next time.
Endings can’t be changed and they often leave a visceral feeling of disappointment at the realization that it’s all over and done with. And that’s it.
This year, the Tar Heels' season ended as an eight-seed, losing 85-62 to ninth-seeded Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Basketball can be the greatest game in the world,” Williams said. “But when you lose, it’s like somebody reaches in and grabs your heart and shakes it right in front of you, then sort of taunts you a little bit.”
To Williams' point, Wisconsin certainly reached in and shook the hearts of the Tar Heels from start to finish on Friday.
The Badgers crushed UNC in every facet of the game. They had a 37 to 34 edge on the boards, shot 51 percent from the field compared to UNC’s 39, and thanks to senior guards Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice, the Badgers made 48 percent of their shots from deep.
Simply put, they attacked from the opening tip and never let up.
The biggest threat to the Tar Heels? Davison. The senior guard turned in one of the best performances of his career, finishing with 29 points and hitting 5-of-7 shots from beyond the arc.
“He hit a lot of tough shots,” UNC's first-year guard Caleb Love said. “He got going early with some threes, he was driving us to the basket. He was doing everything for his team that he could, and we couldn’t stop him. Plain and simple, we couldn’t stop him.”
While endings can be disappointing, they also can have a clarifying effect, one that can highlight the possibilities of the future.
“This year was really hard on young people and I was really proud of them,” Williams said. “How can you be any luckier than Roy Williams is coaching basketball?”
But, of course, endings also bring question marks. And there is certainly a myriad of speculation circulating the potential makeup of next season’s roster.
Who is leaving? Who is headed for the draft? Will Garrison Brooks stay another year? What about transfers?
“I think that we've got the foundation that can be really something,” Williams said. “But kids nowadays have decisions to make whether to leave early and go to the NBA and we'll have to wait and see how those situations pan out.”
Due to COVID-19, all players will have the option to use this season as a redshirt year without losing eligibility. When Brooks was asked if he’s considered returning to UNC next season, he gave a simple shrug.
“A little bit,” Brooks said.
Whether Brooks will return to Chapel Hill — and how the rest of the roster will stack up — remains a mystery, but one thing is for certain: This UNC team in this unique season has come to an end.
But for a team as young as the Tar Heels, the rest is still unwritten.
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