CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams scanned his team's schedule Friday night and saw a potential path to the NCAA tournament.
Beat Boston College on Saturday, rip off four more wins in a row to get to 8-8 in the ACC and the Tar Heels would be right there for an NCAA at-large bid.
"I thought we'd get on a run and be in the NCAA tournament," said the Hall of Fame coach. "Now we have to readjust and get it done Wednesday [against Florida State]. I've never been in this position. I've never cared if we were a one seed, two seed or a three seed. But I thought that if we win five in a row, get to 8-8, that would get us in, but we didn’t get the first step."
Despite having multiple chances to beat Boston College, the Tar Heels once again couldn't finish a game, losing to the Eagles 71-67 at Conte Forum. The loss dropped UNC to 3-9 in the ACC, 14-13 overall, and left it dangerously close to playing itself out of the NIT (it's unlikely UNC would pay to play in the CBI) and, gasp, finishing last in the ACC.
The Tar Heels have the tiebreaker with last-place NC State (3-10 in ACC play) after sweeping the Wolfpack. But if the Tar Heels were to fall so far as to finish last they would, per league rules, not participate in next season's ACC-Big Ten Challenge, just like Georgia Tech this season. That would have been unheard of a few months ago.
After the game, it was BC sophomore Reggie Jackson (17 points), not anyone on the Tar Heels, talking about winning out and finishing 8-8 in the league and possibly winning the ACC tournament and bursting a team's bubble. The Eagles now stand at 4-8 in the ACC, 13-13 overall.
"Everybody knew that this could be the start of five wins in a row," said Tar Heels senior guard Marcus Ginyard. "We were excited. We felt like we had a great attitude, a great practice and it didn't equate to the type of play we needed to win. We've got to play with more pride. That's the bottom line."
Don't blame Williams for projecting a possible NCAA tournament bid. He hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since 1989 -- his first season at Kansas -- and that was because the Jayhawks were on probation after Larry Brown's 1988 national championship season.
This is new territory for this group of Tar Heels as well as Williams. And it's hard to fathom for all of those involved.
North Carolina beat Ohio State -- with Evan Turner -- in New York in November and took out a healthy Michigan State team in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in Chapel Hill, N.C., in December. The Tar Heels also beat the ACC's second-place team, Virginia Tech, at home, even after losing at College of Charleston in a game in which they were missing Ginyard and Will Graves to injury. Tyler Zeller missed 10 games with a stress fracture in his foot. He returned Saturday to score nine points and grab seven boards in 16 minutes, but he missed seven shots. Travis Wear missed his fourth game with a sprained left ankle and David Wear nearly missed this game with a hip injury. And, of course, double-double threat Ed Davis missed his third straight game with a fractured left wrist.
But these aren’t excuses. The Tar Heels still have talent (just watch John Henson as he scooped up a loose ball and snapped in a jumper while getting fouled or as he picked up a steal and flushed a jam). UNC has seven McDonald's All-Americans on its roster.
The Tar Heels were just 1-of-8 on 3-pointers, missed 32 2-point shots and were outrebounded by four by the smaller Eagles. Their guard play has been inconsistent, to say the least. Larry Drew II, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald were unable to find a smooth stroke. Graves was 1-of-5 on 3s.
"It's been the most frustrating time I've had in coaching," Williams said.
Williams said the Charleston and Clemson losses shook UNC's confidence. He said prior to that he thought "we were really going to be good."
Williams said there was one point during the BC game when Drew looked at him after a turnover and said "my fault."
That didn’t wash well with Williams. Overall, he said the Tar Heels need to "freakin' play," since their backs were against the wall.
"You’ve got to go out and fight until you frickin' die," said a heated Williams, who has been coaching with a sling for a few weeks after undergoing shoulder surgery this season and is now dealing with a bad head cold.
The mood in the Tar Heels' locker room was somber. Remaining games against Florida State, at Wake Forest, home against Miami and at Duke all seem difficult at this stage.
Said UNC senior forward Deon Thompson, "I guess I know how other teams feel now."
That emotion may not subside until the season ends.