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I am tired of ignoring the elephant in the room.I’ve spent four years covering varsity sports at UNC. I’ve written on about 17 of UNC’s 28 teams. For most of that time, I’ve bought into the high and mighty ideal that collegiate athletics is a place of purity in sport. That the NCAA Tournament is arguably the greatest sporting event not called the Olympics. That the phrase “student-athlete” is so ordered for a reason.I like ideals like that. So do all of us. But something about those ideals changed sometime in the last two years the more I saw that great fat elephant of a dollar sign in the discussion.Take North Carolina, which has a $70 million athletic department budget and barely breaks even. Take schools in the SEC and the Big 12, which bring in more than $100 million in revenue. You know what we usually call anything with a gross product of $100 million? Corporation.And college athletes are supposed to be amateurs? Give me a break. UNC’s men’s basketball team alone misses weeks of class in both semesters for away games. They wear Nike-sponsored uniforms. They have to speak to a room full of ornery media and answer tough questions. They are asked to be professional in every sense of the word.The NCAA still maintains that it is an amateur sports organization. But the 126 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision combined for $5 billion of revenue in 2008.You want amateur basketball or football, watch the Football Championship Subdivision or high school.Men’s basketball and football are businesses. They’re minor leagues for the NBA and the NFL. The standard line of defense to that claim is that precious few college athletes ever make it to the big leagues. But how many players in the Arena Football League or the Canadian Football League will ever play on Sundays? How many players in the NBA Development League will ever wear an NBA jersey? The rate isn’t that different.So why not give the athletes who support the rest of the sports a little extra? The amateur model didn’t work and is already gone (see: Reggie Bush, John Wall, etc.). So separate the revenue sports. Don’t judge men’s basketball and football by the same standard, and pay the athletes. Not much, just $50,000 to $60,000 per year tops. Just enough to put the dirty money on the table. No more boosters buying cars. Let it be above board.Some colleges wouldn’t be able to afford that. But can anyone tell me that anyone on Butler’s team would have gone somewhere else for an extra 50 grand? Would it really skew the competitive playing field any more than it is already?Forget, for a moment, the problems of how any college will pay for 100-plus athletes. Think instead of the potential benefits. First and foremost, you cut down on corruption and ridiculous legislation from the NCAA. It could actually allow the NCAA to get after what’s really wrong with college sport instead of investigations into illegally purchased Pokey Stix.It could relieve Title IX tensions and allow for true broad-based athletic programs. We could have a level of purity in collegiate athletics again.One of my favorite quotes is from television: “We’re going to raise the level of debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.”It took me four years, but I finally got around to the elephant. This University includes many of the smartest people in the nation. Anyone wanna debate?Contact Powell Latimer at email@example.com.
Nine straight trips to the NCAA tournament. A national title in 1994. Four straight ACC titles from 2005-08. By any standard, North Carolina’s women’s basketball program is one of the most successful in the nation.But in the 2008-09 season, the program spent $1.86 million more than it brought in — a larger deficit than any other sport at UNC.As North Carolina tries to straddle the line between big-money sports and a broad-based athletics program, the department is caught in a nationwide arms race of spending.
When North Carolina’s Athletic Department issued a release in early April that point guard Larry Drew II would not be transferring, Drew went to Associate Athletic Director Steve Kirschner and asked him to delay the release.“I want to Tweet out that I’ve got an announcement, build up some followers,” Drew told Kirschner.Kirschner gave him an hour.Twitter, Facebook and social networking generated a plethora of stories from UNC’s men’s basketball team during the 2009-10 season, a tangible result of the widespread popularity of social media.A panel including Kirschner and UNC senior Marcus Ginyard talked about the ramifications of Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday morning at the Scholarly Conference on College Sport, held at UNC’s Friday Center.The conflict with Twitter revolves around the lack of regulation combined with athletes’ rabid fan following.Kirschner and Ginyard said there still is a learning curve, as athletes don’t always understand that their Tweets are public — a concept reinforced recently as the Library of Congress started to archive Tweets.“They may be Tweeting back to their buddies back home, but every paper is reading those Tweets,” Kirschner said.That was never more clear than after UNC’s loss to College of Charleston this January, when North Carolina freshman John Henson Tweeted that UNC had “made someone’s college career relevant.”Local newspapers ran the Tweet, and the ensuing story was a snafu for North Carolina.“Not only did we lose, our guys were bummed out, but now we look like poor sports,” Kirschner said. “And we look like we don’t care.”There are also legal considerations of Tweets that might violate student privacy laws — like when a teammate Tweeted that UNC’s David Wear might be out for the season with a broken ankle.“I asked him, ‘Do you have $250,000?’” Kirschner said. “‘You just violated HIPAA. If you want to start thinking about the payment plan, that would be a good idea.’” Ginyard said the learning process has been slow and sometimes rocky.“I think that the more and more these situations occur the people are … starting to get an understanding that what they say has an effect on a large group of people and sometimes comes back in a negative way,” Ginyard said.With a fervent fan following, North Carolina’s players are heavily scrutinized on every level.“When Ed Tweets at 2:30, there’s more conversation about why Ed Davis is Tweeting at 2:30 in the morning when he’s got a game the next day than what he actually says,” Kirschner said.One solution posed at the conference was for UNC’s Athletic Department to post all of its basketball players’ Tweets on the official athletic website.“There’s nothing private,” Kirschner said. “Once you put it out there, it’s out there. And that’s one of the things that we’re all learning about social media. You have to be a little bit careful.”Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the last four years, the average UNC senior has rushed Franklin Street at least once, and might have jumped over a fire.They might have spent a Thursday night in Kenan Stadium, sat in the stands at Fetzer Field or spent an afternoon at Boshamer Stadium watching baseball.It’s safe to say that sports are an important part of the experience at North Carolina.During the last four years, UNC teams have won six national titles, been to the College World Series three times and played in two bowl games.The Scholarly Conference on College Sport, a three-day consortium starting at 8:45 a.m. today and running through Friday at UNC’s Friday Center, focuses on that facet of North Carolina. “Seemingly, part of the culture at UNC is sports,” said Richard Southall, director of the College Sports Research Institute.Southall’s department cooperated with UNC’s sports administration program to put on the seminar, which is in its third year.Admission to today’s symposium is $10 for students and $25 for the general public. Online registration and more information can be found at www.csriconference.org.The featured three-part symposium takes place today. In the morning, Associate Athletic Director Steve Kirschner and men’s basketball guard Marcus Ginyard are on a panel discussing Twitter in college athletics. During the 2009-10 season, UNC players frequently broke news through Twitter. Ed Davis used his account to let followers know when he was announcing his NBA draft intention.“My message is that when student athletes Tweet, they’re going to be held accountable,” Kirschner said, adding that he doesn’t want to limit athletes’ Twitter usage. “It’s the same as if you’re in the Smith Center in front of a press conference.” ESPN legal analyst and senior writer Lester Munson was scheduled to be on the panel but canceled Tuesday.“It would have been cool to meet Lester, but he’s way smarter than me,” Kirschner joked. “I stand a chance now.”In the afternoon, Maryland men’s basketball coach Gary Williams and former NBA star Darryl Dawkins are on a panel discussing the effects of the one-and-done rule on college basketball.Williams is known for focusing his recruitment toward four-year players at Maryland. Dawkins — known during his playing days as “Chocolate Thunder” — went pro out of high school in 1975.The afternoon wraps up with a discussion of broad-based athletic programs.“It’s important for students to recognize that it’s an integral part of college — but it’s also a business,” Southall said.On Thursday and Friday, a series of presentations address everything from foreign tours of basketball teams to the recruitment of Cincinnati star freshman Lance Stephenson and the influence of sports information directors.“People recognize that this is an unbiased, unvarnished look at collegiate sports,” Southall said.The conference is put on entirely by graduate students in UNC’s sports administration program. This year, the co-directors were Ross Schwarzber and former Durham Herald-Sun reporter Jack Daly.Contact the Sports Editor at email@example.com.
NEW YORK — In the NIT finals, North Carolina came crashing back to earth.
For almost three weeks, the Tar Heels were able to forget about their disappointing season. The tenth-place finish in the ACC, the 32-point loss to Duke in the season finale, and the first-round exit from the ACC tournament all faded because the Tar Heels started winning.
In Starkville, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., and New York, Larry Drew II was the clutch late-game point guard. Marcus Ginyard was a lockdown defender. John Henson showed why he was a prized recruit out of high school, and Deon Thompson bullied through opponents for rebounds and points.
But against Dayton in the NIT championship game, North Carolina’s old habits came back to bite them.
UNC fell behind by 13 in the first half, and North Carolina’s last play of the 2010 season was a turnover, 700 miles from Indianapolis and the Final Four.
Instead of celebrating in confetti and streamers like in 2008-09, UNC had to stay on the floor after the buzzer sounded on Dayton’s 79-68 win to watch Dayton accept the NIT trophy.
“It’s the worst feeling you can have as a coach,” Roy Williams said. “Because you’re so inadequate to what you can say to take away the pain and the sorrow that they have.”
UNC rallied to start the second half with a 12-1 run but couldn’t take the lead as Dayton’s shooting kept the Flyers ahead.
Junior three-point marksman Will Graves did everything he could to keep UNC in the game. His 19 second-half points and 7-for-13 shooting from beyond the arc just weren’t enough.
Drew’s 12 points and eight assists couldn’t pull the Tar Heels ahead, nor could Thompson’s third straight double-double.
And after Dayton received the trophy, a teary-eyed Drew walked off the floor with his teammates.
“It killed me,” Drew said. “Watching somebody else have what you tried so hard and what you fought so hard for.”
The four NIT wins did allow for seniors Thompson and Ginyard to end their careers with better memories despite the 20-17 season.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life to coach people like Deon and Marcus,” Williams said. “Lord willing, I’ll be able to continue to do that.”
Ginyard, an emotional leader in UNC’s NIT run, shot 1-for-3 from the field in his final game. Thompson’s 152 games played is an NCAA record. In his career at North Carolina, he never missed a game.
Thompson said he realized that he was playing his last game on the bus ride to the stadium, but Ginyard said he was “blank.”
“Some little part of me thinks we’re going to go back and take a couple of weeks off and we’ll all be back together again,” Ginyard said. “But the other part of me knows that ain’t true.”
The NIT run also provided a chance for Drew, UNC’s oft-maligned point guard, to show his growth heading into next season.
Drew hit critical game-deciding layups in the Tar Heels’ final three wins — including the game winners against Mississippi State and UAB.
“I look back and maybe if I’d have played like that, we probably wouldn’t be here right now,” Drew said.
UNC’s touted freshman class didn’t show its potential.
While Henson and Dexter Strickland both provided solid minutes in the NIT, the title game was a regression for both.
Henson spent the game mired in foul trouble, finishing with five points and one rebound while playing only 21 minutes. Strickland finished with one rebound, no points and two turnovers.
Fellow freshman Leslie McDonald shot 0-for-2 in the game.
“Overall, we wanted to have a chance to win a national championship,” Henson said. “So that’s still the same. But it’s good to make some strides and make the best of our situation.”
Williams, who several times during the regular season said that he’d never had to coach effort as much as this year, commended his team’s performance late in the year.
“I do think we played harder once we got to the NIT,” Williams said.
Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEW YORK — North Carolina's 2010 season ended with a turnover, 700 miles from Indianapolis and the Final Four.
NEW YORK — North Carolina lost in the NIT championship game to Dayton, 79-68.
NEW YORK — North Carolina trails Dayton by 13 at halftime of the NIT championship game.
NEW YORK — Just before the tip-off of overtime during North Carolina’s win against Rhode Island on Tuesday, John Henson had to stop.URI’s Will Martell, trying to get an advantage, twitched before the ball was thrown. Henson straightened in joking offense, looking to the crowd as if to ask, “Did that really happen?”Never mind that the Tar Heels had barely reached overtime and had five minutes to extend their season or go home. Action stopped for a few moments while Henson hammed it up.Immediately afterwards, UNC made its first two buckets and took control of overtime.The freshman forward and his goofy smile have helped lift the Tar Heels out of what looked like a losing season earlier this year and into the NIT finals. “John’s just a very light-hearted kid,” Larry Drew II said. “I think guys just feed off his energy.” Henson’s smile came out earlier in regulation when one of his passes was so errant that Will Graves was still laughing as he walked onto the court to replace Henson, The freshman could only smile, hold his head in his hands and jog to the bench.Since moving into the starting lineup 12 games ago, Henson’s stats and play have steadily improved. In the last six games, he’s averaging 10.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and has eight blocks in the NIT.“He really stepped up big for us down the stretch,” Drew said. “With his length and his athleticism, he makes it difficult for other teams to run the offense.”But more than numbers, Henson’s nature provides levity to a Tar Heel team that, just a month ago, slid to the depths of the ACC and couldn’t build any confidence.Henson’s seen his fair share of struggles this year as well. The rail-thin 6-foot-10 freshman struggled learning to play small forward. His weight-gain goals continue to be problematic, drawing the unyielding ridicule of teammates.But Drew agrees that Henson continues to go about his business in good spirits.“He just always manages to find the brightest side of the situation, and people just feed off that.”Contact the Sports Editor at email@example.com.
NEW YORK — North Carolina’s point guard wants a little bit of redemption — and in Madison Square Garden, he started to get some. Larry Drew II has been under fire most of this season. He’s denied rumors that he’s transferring and weathered both storms of criticism and 16 losses.But in the NIT, far away from the NCAA Final Four, Drew has been quietly exorcising some of those demons. Tuesday night, he did it in a big way.In the same building where UNC suffered its first loss of the season, Drew extended UNC’s season for the third straight game. “I’m either dumb or I’m confident, because I keep putting it in his hands,” UNC coach Roy Williams said of his sophomore floor general.With the clock winding down in regulation, Drew — as has become his end-of-game ritual in the NIT — drove the lane and hit a layup to tie the score and send the game into overtime. This time, it was Drew into the lane with 55 seconds to play.And in the extra period, it was Drew who found first Tyler Zeller in the paint for a 3-point play, then found Deon Thompson for two free throws.“I feel like those are the kinds of situations I was bred for,” Drew said. “That’s why I came here.”And this time, it wasn’t in Starkville, Miss., or even in Birmingham, Ala. It was in Madison Square Garden. It was in the same gym where Syracuse handed UNC its first loss of the season, 87-71. In that game, Drew went 0-for-2 and did not score. Tuesday night, Drew was 4-for-11 with nine crucial points, five assists and three turnovers.“Late-game situations we’re putting it in his hands, and he’s done a great job with it,” senior Marcus Ginyard said. “He’s really showing us that he wants that, and that if we put him in that situation, he can make a play.”With the postseason run, Drew’s play — in UNC’s last three games, he’s hit a late-game layup to either win or tie the game — has given UNC a confidence it lacked just a month ago in the regular season“It’s just a refocused team,” Ginyard said. “We’ve been a little bit more confident.”And it’s easy to see the reason. With UNC scrambling at the end of overtime, Drew’s jump shot missed and Rhode Island collected — but in the scramble, the ball rolled loose. Drew collected as the buzzer sounded.Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1971, Richard Nixon was president, the United States was involved in a massively unpopular war in Vietnam and on March 27, North Carolina beat Georgia Tech 84-66 to win the National Invitational Tournament.Dean Smith coached a Tar Heel team led by current NBA coach George Karl, Bill Chamberlain and Steve Previs to a regular season ACC championship and an 11-3 conference record.But the NCAA tournament field didn’t expand to 64 teams until 1985 and didn’t give out at-large bids until 1975. Only the conference tournament champions went to the NCAA tournament.In the NIT, the Tar Heels massacred Massachusetts in their opener by 41 points. Providence didn’t fair much better two days later, and UNC topped the Friars 86-79.UNC faced Duke for the fourth time that season in its next game in Madison Square Garden, besting the Blue Devils 73-67 for the third time that year and sending the Tar Heels to the championship game on basketball’s biggest stage.The next year, UNC finished the season with a 26-5 record and appeared in the NCAA Final Four with the same team, plus one high-profile addition in Robert McAdoo.Contact the Sports Editor at email@example.com.
With the clock running down, a defender in his face and the opposing crowd screaming, Larry Drew II drove down the lane and dropped a feather-soft layup through the hoop.Game, North Carolina.That was March 20. Three days later, Drew did the same thing.In fact, during the NIT, the Tar Heels have shown a propensity for finishing close games.The three games, all won by fewer than 10 points, have sent UNC to the final four of the NIT.And while the Tar Heels aren’t closing games out in the NCAA Tournament, it is nonetheless a marked change from the regular season, where UNC was 1-6 in games decided by five points or fewer. “I agree we’ve gotten a lot better down the stretch,” coach Roy Williams said. “And we need to continue that improvement, too.”The reason, according to Williams and his players, is defense. The Tar Heels gave up an average of 72.4 points per game in their 5-11 ACC campaign this year.But in the NIT, UNC has held opponents to just 67 points per game.“We’ve just figured out that defense is going to win games for us, and the offense will take care of itself,” freshman John Henson said.Williams added that he’s “seen the guys buy into it more. They’re communicating better,” on the defensive end.“We have been sharper mentally,” Williams said.“We’ve been listening to the scouting report better. We’ve been giving better effort, even in the loss to Georgia Tech in the tournament. In the first half particularly, I thought defensively we were really good.”It certainly helps that the Tar Heels are finishing in the post. Deon Thompson’s .594 shooting percentage in the NIT eclipses his .492 shooting for the season.It helps also that Thompson, Henson and Tyler Zeller are combining for 33 points per game in the NIT.The increase in point production is accompanied by a decrease in turnovers.For the season, UNC is averaging 15.1 turnovers per game. But in the three NIT games, the Tar Heels are averaging only 12.3.UNC gave the ball away 11 times in the first half against UAB last Tuesday, but only turned it over four times in the second half.The statistics can give some indication of just how UNC managed to pull out three close victories in a season of close losses, but it’s important to note that sometimes the Tar Heels have found a little luck.During North Carolina’s regular-season struggles, it dropped heartbreakers at College of Charleston and against Georgia Tech.With UNC up by three points at Charleston, Thompson defended Andrew Goudelock’s last-second prayer perfectly, only to have it find the bottom of the net and send the game into overtime.Against Georgia Tech, Will Graves’ 3-point shot at the buzzer clanged off the rim.But as a contrast, in the NIT UNC and Drew have found luck. Against Mississippi State, Drew’s layup had to clear the outstretched hands of MSU’s Jarvis Varnado by inches — there was precious little room for error.But Drew, driving at full speed and in traffic, managed to hit the difficult shot.A few days later, with time running down, UAB defenders followed four Tar Heels clearing out of the lane. They left the bucket undefended and gave Drew a clear path for the game-sealing layup.A good drive and a little bit of luck later, UNC had a game scheduled at Madison Square Garden.Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deon Thompson has played more games in a North Carolina uniform than any player in the history of the program. He’s hit the floor 150 times in his career.He remembers game No. 4, a 82-74 loss to Gonzaga in Madison Square Garden.He remembers game No. 120, and so do all of his teammates. That was this season’s 87-71 beating at the hands of Syracuse, also at Madison Square Garden.Those two losses don’t sit well with Thompson and the rest of his teammates, and Tuesday night’s NIT semifinal game offers a chance for some redemption, especially for Thompson and fellow senior Marcus Ginyard.“I definitely think there’s unfinished business for us there,” Thompson said after UNC’s win at UAB last Tuesday.In fact, the trip to New York holds more than just redemption for previous losses in MSG. For a team that finished one game above .500 in the regular season and lost in the ACC Tournament’s first round, there was doubt that the Tar Heels would even make the NIT. Ginyard himself said that he didn’t think UNC would make the field.The Tar Heels talk now like they’re out to prove how good they are, that they’re the same team that at one point was ranked No. 6 in the nation.Coach Roy Williams repeatedly states that his team is playing only for the next game. But an NIT championship could give an element of closure to UNC, and, as Ginyard said, leave the team with “a better taste in our mouths” after a season where UNC struggled with injuries and offensive production.UNC’s highly touted rookie class struggled like the rest of the team through much of the season, but in the NIT, freshmen John Henson and Dexter Strickland have looked more comfortable. In the NIT, Strickland is averaging 7.7 points per game, and has turned the ball over only three times. Henson is averaging almost 12 points and seven rebounds in NIT play.“‘Personally, I don’t care anything about Madison Square Garden,” Williams said. “I want us to go in with motivation and play better because of the whole season, not just because of what happened up there in November.”Williams also emphasizes that he’s coaching for the moment and trying to give Ginyard and Thompson the best ending for their careers that he can. “I’m trying to focus on getting the bad taste out of our mouth of 16 losses,” Williams said.Contact the Sports Editor at email@example.com.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. —Larry Drew II refuses to let the other shoe drop. Just two weeks removed from wondering if a .500 record would even make the NIT tournament, Drew and North Carolina are headed to Madison Square Garden after a 60-55 win against UAB.For the second straight game, it was Drew, the oft-maligned point guard and UNC’s new go-to player in the clutch, with the critical play.
BIRMINGHAM, ALA— UNC and UAB are tied after the opening 20 minutes of play at Bartow Arena at 25.
After Larry Drew II’s game-winning layup fell through the basket Saturday, there was a conspicuous absence from the postgame stat sheet.North Carolina was missing its usual allotment of turnovers. With only 11 giveaways on the day, the Tar Heels didn’t let their offense stall. Mississippi State didn’t bury the Tar Heels with a killer run as so many teams have this season.
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Trailing 13-2 and steaming mad at his team, North Carolina coach Roy Williams yanked the team’s veterans.Against a hot-shooting Mississippi State team playing on its home floor, Williams sent in freshmen Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Travis Wear, John Henson and sophomore Tyler Zeller. Ten minutes later, the Tar Heels had gained the lead. “It was like a 12, 13-point game,” Williams said. “Those guys got us back in the game.” UNC freshmen scored 16 points of the 18-6 run that put the Tar Heels up 20-19 with 6:51 to play in the first half and attacked the physical Mississippi State defense with the intensity that Williams felt his starters lacked. All told, Tar Heel freshmen scored 25 of UNC’s 36 first-half points, shot 57 percent from the floor in the first half, and kept North Carolina ahead of the Bulldogs. The performance has been a long time coming, as UNC’s highly touted freshman class struggled to get up to speed with the rest of the team this season.No player averaged more than 6 points per game or played more than 16 minutes per game entering Saturday.But North Carolina’s freshman class was up to the challenge of MSU forward Jarvis Varnado, the NCAA career leader in blocked shots. Henson, who is flourishing in the post after struggling playing the wing earlier this season, actually outplayed the much larger senior in the first half. He helped hold Varnado to only seven points, four rebounds and one block while chipping in 10 points, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the opening 20 minutes. He shot 5-for-8 from the field. Several times, Henson snagged loose balls under the basket and stuffed them home, and his alley-oop dunk late in the first half gave UNC its biggest lead of the game at 30-23.It’s been a trend for Henson recently, as the freshman is averaging 9.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in the last six games.Strickland and McDonald attacked the MSU defense and Varnado with dribble penetration. The two guards combined for 15 points of the bench, most of them on drives to the basket. McDonald even drew a three-point play while scoring over Varnado. “Well, I knew I had to come in and set the tempo,” Strickland said. “We just wanted to go out there and play as a team and have fun.” Strickland finished 3-for-4 from the field in 16 minutes of action. His play and that of his roommates McDonald and Henson sparked the upperclassmen, who sat on the bench for long stretches of the first half, to take charge in the game’s final moments. “They helped us get back on track,” Marcus Ginyard said. “We didn’t quite come out with the focus we needed, and they helped us get our focus back.”
The throwback uniforms and relocation to Carmichael Arena were good for one win, and next up for North Carolina is a stiff road test.The Tar Heels, a No. 4 seed in the NIT, won their tournament opener by beating No. 5 seed William & Mary in the smaller and decidedly more intense Carmichael. UNC even hit 80 points for the first time in 2010.But for this success to continue, UNC will have to hit the road for Saturday’s second-round NIT matchup.Almost 700 miles away from Chapel Hill and the frenzied fans of Carmichael is Starkville, Miss. and the No. 1 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs.UNC’s forwards are coming off a productive night against an undermanned William & Mary team. John Henson, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller combined for 42 of UNC’s 80 points Tuesday night But Mississippi State is significantly tougher on the interior. The Bulldogs have the NCAA’s career shot block leader in Jarvis Varnado anchoring the frontcourt. Varnado averages 4.8 blocks per game this season to go along 13.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.The Tar Heels will also have to contend with another hot-shooting team, as in addition to Varnado, the Bulldogs have three guards averaging double figures. As a team, MSU shoots .358 from beyond the arc; William & Mary shot .351.Mississippi State is coming off a 81-67 win against No. 8 seed Jackson State in the NIT’s first round. Before that, there was a harsh overtime loss to Kentucky in the SEC championship game — where the Bulldogs were just split seconds away from making the NCAA tournament.So the Tar Heels will have a tough test against the defensive-minded Bulldogs. UNC, for the season, shoots 44.5 percent from the field. Mississippi State has won 24 games when it holds its opponents below 45 percent shooting from the field.Adding to the mix is the lack of familiarity. UNC owns a 4-0 record all-time against the Bulldogs, but the two teams haven’t met since 1964.
With throwback uniforms and a throwback arena, North Carolina wrapped itself in its own 100-year legacy for Tuesday night’s NIT opener against William & Mary.And on Tuesday, it was enough for a throwback 80-72 win.Despite not making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003, UNC came out with plenty of fire and emotion in front of the more intimate crowd of only 7,000 at Carmichael Arena, UNC’s home court from 1965 to 1986.“Let’s take half the seats out of the Dean Dome, put in luxury boxes and have a dadgum crowd like this every dadgum night,” UNC coach Roy Williams joked.Marcus Ginyard ran out of the tunnel gleefully shouting. John Henson strutted during the announcement of the opening lineups. Deon Thompson repeatedly encouraged the crowd, and the Tar Heels raced out to a 9-0 opening lead before William & Mary could even get started.“We played pretty doggone good in the first half to go in with a 10-point lead,” Williams said.But when the Tribe did get going, its long-range barrage was deadly. W&M took 43 3-point shots for the game and connected on 16 of them. David Schneider led the Tribe with 21 points and kept the game neck and neck.“David played the way he always plays,” William & Mary coach Tony Shaver said. “His effort, his intensity, his heart are always on display.”The Tar Heels countered with a steady diet of Thompson. The senior led UNC with 20 points and had eight rebounds and two steals.UNC went down low often, scoring 38 points in the paint and building up a 10-point halftime lead. Thompson scored 11 points in the opening 20 minutes, and he and Henson combined for UNC’s last 13 points of the half.But William & Mary erased the deficit with an 8-2 run to open the second half as the Tribe turned to leading scorer Schneider.Early in the second half, Schneider and Co. hit five threes in a three-minute period. Schneider also hit a fading 30-footer to put the Tribe up 72-69 with just five minutes to play.But Dexter Strickland and Larry Drew II hit six free throws down the stretch to restore the lead and Tyler Zeller’s steal and breakaway dunk with less than one minute to play sealed the game for UNC.The Tar Heels limited their turnovers to just 11 while forcing 17 out of William & Mary.“We did a great job of getting after it,” Ginyard said. “Getting on the loose balls, playing together as a team.”UNC moves on to play Mississippi State in the NIT’s second round Saturday.Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Around 9:30 p.m. Sunday, when the National Invitational Tournament gave North Carolina a No. 4 seed and a home opener, there were two buzz words in the Tar Heel locker room: relief and surprise.