College basketball: Carolina ‘human’ in loss

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 6, 2009

By Luke DeCock
Raleigh News & Observer
CHAPEL HILL ó By the end, North Carolina was reduced to heaving up 3-pointers in a parody of the way their previous opponents this season often ended up playing against the Tar Heels. In a season in which they have imposed their will with impunity, they found out what it’s like to be imposed upon.
UNC may have cruised through the first half of the schedule, but its bid for an undefeated basketball season didn’t survive the ACC opener. Boston College thoroughly and comprehensively beat the Tar Heels in an 85-78 win that wasn’t as close as the final score.
From the unanimous No. 1 national ranking to a tie for last place in the ACC, all in the space of a Sunday evening when nothing went as planned for Carolina.
“Nobody’s incapable of losing,” UNC senior Danny Green said. “We’re human, too. We’re allowed to lose and things of that nature.”
With Ty Lawson scoring his 1,000th point as former UNC stars Raymond Felton, Sean May and Marvin Williams looking on from behind the bench, this had the feel of a coronation as the Heels took their first ACC step toward an undefeated season.
May’s father, Scott, and his Indiana teammates were the last team to go through a college basketball season undefeated, back in 1976. UNC’s hopes of matching that feat are history, too.
The Heels were outgunned from the outside and outmuscled on the inside, although they were undone primarily by a 16-4 run midway through the second half that turned a two-point BC lead into a 14-point margin.
Nine of Boston College’s points during that run were scored by a 6-foot-3 freshman guard with the appropriate name of Reggie Jackson. Mr. January 4th finished with 17 points off the bench, giving the Eagles a third scoring option behind Tyrese Rice (25 points) and Rakim Sanders (22 points) ó one the Heels couldn’t stop with Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasor still apparently recovering from injuries and Green in foul trouble.
“I won’t say I predicted it, but I pretty much did,” said Rice, who grew up in Salisbury. “I told Corey Raji a couple days ago at practice that’d we’d be up big and then we’d win close.”
UNC pulled to four down late, but no closer. Just about everything that worked for the Heels during their run of 13 double-digit wins to open the season didn’t Sunday against a BC team that contested everything the Heels attempted, near and far from the rim.
Even the easy baskets weren’t easy. When Wayne Ellington cruised in for a fastbreak layup with the Heels down 13 in the second half, Sanders ran him down from behind to block the shot. The run-and-gun Heels scored just five points off turnovers.
“We gave them too much confidence early in the game,” Ellington said. “Instead of getting stops early, shutting down their confidence, we let them keep building more and more confidence.”
Those easy shots in the lane were a little harder. The Heels missed 12 free throws. That smothering UNC defense was a little more forgiving, the pace a little slower. There was a little more competition for rebounds, particularly at the defensive end.
Perhaps most important, there was an opponent unshaken by the sight of Carolina blue on the opposing uniforms. This game was played Boston College’s way, rough and scrappy.
“I can’t say this enough,” Boston College coach Al Skinner said. “I just wanted to make sure we went out and played the way we wanted to play.”
The Heels, whose biggest concern two days ago was that their wins had been too big, leaving them without any exposure to close games, now have a laundry list of problems to deal with over the next few days at both ends of the court.
While they certainly showed they need to work on late-game situations ó in addition to the free-throw struggles and eight missed 3-pointers in the final 31/2 minutes, UNC turned the ball over twice in the final 48 seconds ó remaining undefeated is no longer an issue.
“We knew we had to play when we came into the ACC,” UNC senior Tyler Hansbrough said. “We said it, but we didn’t do it tonight, and we got beat.”
Bret Strelow contributed to this story.