Leaving court early 'embarrassing'

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller said Tuesday that he hasn’t asked his five Tar Heel teammates about what it was like for them to be left on the court Saturday for the end of his team’s 33-point blowout loss at Florida State.

“There hasn’t been a lot of talking going on the last few days,’’ the senior said. “It’s just been focusing on basketball, trying to get better.”

But Zeller will never forget what it felt like to follow coach Roy Williams and most of the rest of his team off the Tucker Center court and to the locker room with 14.2 seconds left.

“That was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in my life, because it was to the point where I never thought I’d leave a game early because we’d lost by that much, and they were going to storm the floor,’’ Zeller said. “And it was just something I hope to never experience again.”

Zeller said he “completely understands” why Williams chose to leave for the locker room early. The 7-footer was already off the court when UNLV fans stormed the Orleans Arena floor this season, after UNC lost by 10. (That was the game when a UNC female manager was bumped to the ground by the celebrating fans, an incident Williams has brought up when explaining the decision to head to the locker room before time ran out.)

But Zeller said he was on the Smith Center floor last season when UNC fans stormed the court after the Tar Heels secured the ACC regular-season title. And even at home, it was a frenzied atmosphere.

“It is intense,’’ Zeller said. “I was worried that I was going to be thrown to the ground when they were all running out, and I’m a pretty big guy. It’s something, they’re happy, they’re running out there. That was fun for us, I’m sure it was fun for them [the fans]. But it can be dangerous, just how fast people are running out there. It’s not like they’re walking out there leisurely … they’re trying to jump on you.”

Leaving the floor before the end of the game kept most of the Tar Heel players out of the fracas (Williams has said he didn't mean to leave the five reserves out there to play the final seconds of the game, and he has aplogized.). But having to leave the floor in that situation, after recording the most lopsided loss in the Williams era, definitely bruised.

“I completely understand what Coach’s mindset was,” said Zeller, who had 14 points and 14 rebounds in the blowout loss. “But it was definitely very embarrassing -- the whole situation, in general.”

Follow Robbi PIckeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.