It was a sobering atmosphere in the Dean Dome January 12 for UNC’s ACC home opener against Louisville, but it didn’t start out that way. Just a few days prior, the Tar Heels had beaten then 18th ranked NC State by 17 points. Fans were excited and players were confident. Maybe too confident. Or as Roy Williams would say, “fat and happy” confident. They weren’t ready for the punch in the face the Cardinals would hit them with in the form of a 18-8 run in the first five minutes of the game. And just as if they were hit by Tyson in his prime, they wouldn’t recover. Fans started trickling out of the Dean Dome with 15 minutes remaining in the game. Players were holding the heads in defeat long before the final buzzer went off. It was one of the worst losses ever in Chapel Hill.
Getting embarrassed like that can do one of two things. It can start a downward spiral plagued with bad play and continued losses, or it can fuel you to be better and never want to experience that feeling again. Thankfully for UNC and their fans it was the latter.
Since January 12 the Tar Heels have not only been undefeated, but they have beaten their opponents by an average of 14 points per game. Their swagger on the court is different and demeanor after the game is more relaxed. Coach Roy Williams says it starts with how the team practices and players agree.
“Our preparation before game day is different,” Garrison Brooks said after UNC defeated NC State. “We practice hard and pay attention to detail during scout days.”
“After that game the whole team was embarrassed with how bad we played,” freshman Coby White said. “We played with lack of effort and emotion. Now, we take it day by day in practice – practicing harder and buying in to what the coaches are saying.”
Before January 12th it seemed liked UNC was still trying to find their identity, but it took that loss for them to figure it out. It took that loss for them to be one of the most dangerous teams in college basketball. It took that loss for them to get back to being the threat they’ve always been. It took that loss for them to get back to playing Tar Heel basketball.