ACC Basketbal: Boston College 85, No. 1 North Carolina 78
Published 12:00 am Monday, January 5, 2009
By Bret Strelow
CHAPEL HILL ó Head coach Al Skinner leaned against a concrete wall outside the visitor’s locker room as staff members circled around him following Boston College’s 85-78 upset of top-ranked North Carolina.
George Mumford, the Eagles’ sports psychologist, referenced a newspaper article questioning how the Tar Heels would respond in a close contest.
“Now they know,” Skinner deadpanned.
UNC, which won each of its first 13 games by at least 15 points, suffered a stunning loss in its ACC opener at the Smith Center on Sunday night. Speculation about the Tar Heels making an undefeated run to the NCAA title, last accomplished by Indiana in 1976, seems absurd now that they’re tied for last place in the league.
North Carolina (13-1, 0-1) led Boston College (13-2, 1-0) for the final time with five minutes left in the first half and fell behind by as many as 15 points.
“We never sat in the locker room and said, ‘Let’s go straight undefeated,’ ” UNC senior Tyler Hansbrough said. “That was more people outside the locker room. Now you can put that to rest and come back to reality and focus on getting better instead of listening to all this hype.”
The Eagles, who committed only 11 turnovers, established a 46-40 halftime lead by hitting seven 3-pointers and grabbing 13 offensive rebounds.
Rakim Sanders scored 18 of his 22 points in the opening half, and former Salisbury resident Tyrese Rice finished with a game-high 25 points.
Hansbrough had 21 points for UNC, which shot 38 percent from the field and 15-for-27 from the line in its second-lowest scoring game of the season.
“We had some guys, including myself, who did not have as good as a day as we thought we would,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
The Tar Heels hadn’t trailed in the last 27 minutes of a game all season ó UC Santa Barbara led them 27-25 on Nov. 21, and North Carolina took an eight-point edge into the break.
That was UNC’s most competitive first half until Sunday, when Sanders beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer in front of an irate Williams.
Rice said footage of earlier games did little to help him prepare for the Tar Heels.
“You look at people playing defense against them, people’s hands are back,” Rice said. “When people drive, they’re standing straight up. They’re not trying to contest shots. I couldn’t even really look at the tape because everybody’s scared.
“I can’t watch a tape when everybody on the court is scared where they’re not trying to challenge them. That was the biggest thing with our team. We wanted to challenge them and see if they could step up and play as hard as we were going to play.”
UNC point guard Ty Lawson, Rice’s counterpart, agreed that Boston College defended his team differently than anybody had.
“They brought it to us first,” Lawson said. “They bumped us first when we’d go to the basket.
“That’s probably the toughest team we’ve played all season. No team has ever come to us and tried to rough us up. That’s the main thing that helped them a lot. They were much tougher than us.”
UNC’s last chance to tie the score came with about 14 minutes left, when Lawson missed a transition layup and William Graves failed on a follow attempt.
The Tar Heels trailed 58-56 before Boston College reserve Reggie Jackson scored nine of his 17 points in a decisive 16-4 run.
“It is not characteristic for our team to play the way they did,” Williams said. “Hopefully it will not be characteristic for us to play like that again.”
The Tar Heels still made a late run even though they went 5-for-12 from the line in the final eight minutes. Hansbrough, an 87-percent shooter, was 3-for-6 in that stretch.
The Eagles led 82-73 with two minutes left, but UNC made a layup and three free throws to close within four in the final minute.
Rice sealed the outcome with free throws that sent fans rushing up the aisles.
“You don’t want to see everybody standing around still cheering,” Rice said. “That gives you a bad feeling leaving the gym.
“When you see people with their backs turned, heads down, people stomping up the steps, that’s what you love to see when you’re an away team.”