The question often arises as to why certain media outlets feel the need to travel to every game, home and away. And while that motley crew of beat writers traversing the UNC beat has steadily diminished over the years, the reason remains the same – to see and understand what happens off the court. To hear the players in the locker room, to see the emotion on the head coach’s face and occasionally, to get a glimpse behind-the-scenes of why or how certain things happen.
Only three independent Triangle-based media outlets have traveled to every UNC basketball game this season – Inside Carolina, The News & Observer and UNC’s student paper, The Daily Tar Heel - so the pool of media members with a full understanding of what took place in Vegas and in Tallahassee is limited.
The benefit of that travel became obvious as Williams decided to leave the floor at the Tucker Center before the game clock reached zero and hundreds, if not thousands, of Seminole fans rushed the court.
Williams opened his postgame press conference by stating that his actions were not intended to embarrass Florida State or to suggest that security was unable to control the crowd.
FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton told reporters that he mentioned the idea to Williams.
“I wanted very much for Roy to take his team off the floor so that they wouldn’t get caught up in the excitement and jubilance of our fans,” Hamilton said. “That wasn’t a negative on his part or anything that was disrespectful. As a matter of fact, I suggested that he do that.”
Williams provided some insight into his decision.
“I was just trying to protect our team,” Williams said. “We had an ugly incident at Las Vegas and one of our female managers got knocked down. I’m between a rock and a hard place because I love to see college kids be able to celebrate… But I also think it’s dangerous for the visiting team trying to get off the court.”
And Las Vegas is where Saturday’s events originate. With alcohol flowing at the New Orleans Arena, the fans charged the court after the Runnin’ Rebels upset the top-ranked Tar Heels. One person decided that he wanted to get up close and personal with Williams in front of the UNC bench.
“One guy came down behind the bench to yell at me at the end and came on the court after me again but he didn’t get close enough, so that’s all you can say,” Williams told reporters following the UNLV loss.
Fan arrested after
But the bigger concern was the female manager being shoved to the ground. The handful of reporters waiting in the locker room corridor to talk to Williams after the game had to hold tight while Williams, several school officials and a manager detailed the events to police officers.
Does that history absolve Williams from criticism for taking his top players off the court while leaving several assistants and his Blue Steel group to fend for themselves? Of course not, but it provides valuable insight into his decision-making process.
When asked if he was surprised by his coach’s decision, junior Dexter Strickland replied: “Yeah, I mean, I’ve never done that before. But I understand that he wanted us to be safe in case everyone started storming the floor and knocking us down. He wanted us to be safe, so you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Strickland acknowledged that people will likely be critical of Williams’s actions.
“I think a lot of people will, but you can’t look at that – that’s little stuff,” Strickland said. “We don’t need to focus on that. We need to focus on getting better and winning our next game.”
Criticism is deserved for what happened in the closing seconds on Saturday. It was likely a rash decision that shouldn’t have been made, or at worst, Williams should have remained on the sideline with the remaining players on the court while the other players left with assistants. But an understanding of what took place in Las Vegas is critical in forming an accurate opinion of what Williams did on Saturday.