It had the intensity of a Final Four showdown, the contentiousness of an off-camera get-together before "Joe Millionaire," the pace of the Daytona 500 and the head-scratching finale of a David Lynch flick. Add in mini-diatribes by both teams' coaches during and after the game, a dubious foul or two, a blown lead, a dramatic jumper and even more dramatic free throws, and a taunting, surging, court-charging crowd and you've got one hell of a spectacle -- er, college basketball game.
Click here for more pictures from the game The taunt was a mere peep at first, but by the time Chris Hobbs walked toward the tunnel leading to the Clemson locker room, it had crescendoed to a booming chant. "You can't win here!" yelled the North Carolina students standing in the risers.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Even though the motivations were different, North Carolina and Virginia entered Saturday afternoon's matchup with similar game plans. Crowd the middle with a 2-3 zone. Don't let them beat us inside. Make them shoot us into making adjustments. Both teams saw the other had struggled recently against the zone. Both tried to use that to their advantage. And by the end of the first half, it was obvious which team had the most success.
At some point before Wednesday night's game against Davidson, a certain memory from a season ago occupied the recesses of Melvin Scott's mind. Back then, Scott started 21 games for Coach Matt Doherty's North Carolina men's basketball team. His first was the season's second game against -- who else? -- the Wildcats. "In the back of my mind, you know, I scored 15 points last season against Davidson," Scott said, smiling at the thought. "And I was just thinking about that. I just wanted to come out and play aggressive and shoot with confidence."
Even from the start, things were a bit off Wednesday night at the Smith Center. North Carolina's leading scorer, Rashad McCants, was on the bench to start the Tar Heels' game against Davidson. In his place? Will Johnson. If that weren't strange enough, a loose-ball scrum following the opening tip cost the Wildcats' leading scorer, Peter Anderer, half of his front tooth. Not exactly a run-of-the-mill first 10 seconds. Then again, perhaps it was an appropriate start to a strange matchup.
It was supposed to be a quick weekend of work at the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival, a triumphant return to New York for the North Carolina men's basketball team. There, on the same court where they grabbed the Preseason NIT title and made UNC fans forget about last year's 8-20 debacle, the Tar Heels were set to grab two wins and move to 9-2. By eclipsing the eight-win mark and continuing its winning ways heading into the new year, North Carolina could finally put to rest many of the comparisons to last season.
To get itself started, it first had to stop its opponents. With its 5-0 start and Preseason NIT victory, the North Carolina men's basketball team looks entirely different from the squad that stumbled to 1-4 a year ago. The Tar Heels' new identity is apparent in their youth and athleticism, but UNC has started strong because of its ability to shut down opposing offenses. After allowing its opponents to make more than 45 percent of their field goals in 2001-02, North Carolina has used a staunch half-court man-to-man defense in which quickness is key to hold opponents to 34.6 percent
NORFOLK, Va. -- North Carolina backup shooting guard Melvin Scott knew the signs. He could feel the energy of the crowd rise, the flow of the game change. It was obvious. The Tar Heels were in trouble Sunday at Old Dominion. In the midst of a 10-2 Monarch run late in the second half, ODU and its home crowd had the momentum and an edge.
Click here to see a photo gallery of shots from the UNC victory As his young team started to make its slow crawl back into contention Wednesday night, North Carolina men's basketball coach Matt Doherty invoked the past to inspire the present. One part of the coach's motivational words, in particular, sank in with his young team.
Perhaps the start of it all came before they hit the court, a bit before they even got on the floor. On the first day of practice, former North Carolina men's basketball player Jason Capel returned to Chapel Hill to talk to the Tar Heels. His message? Bring back the tradition. "That struck home with me," said freshman Sean May. "I felt that." Apparently so did May's teammates. Monday night, the Tar Heels breathed life into a new chapter of UNC hoops lore and gave another generation of fans hope for an exciting, and maybe successful, season.