Two hours and a boat load of missed shots later that record dropped to 71-2 and confirmed the concerns their legion of fans have had about this possibly being a uniquely poor season for the Tar Heels.
Hampton forced Carolina into 6-34 shooting from three-point range (17.6%) and 26-67 total (38.8%) and after Tommy Adams nailed a three-pointer to give them a 3-2 lead never trailed and defeated No. 20 UNC 77-69 before a stunned crowd of 17,320 at the Dean E. Smith Center.
“They just really didn’t want Kris (Lang) to get the ball,” said sophomore guard Brian Morrison (nine points, five assists, four turnovers). “I think what they were trying to do was ‘let them beat us from the outside.’”
That plan obviously worked.
The Pirates were effective with a zone defense that always had a man behind the six-foot-11 Lang and would drop someone down low to front him every time the ball swung to the perimeter nearest to his position on the blocks. Carolina was simply unable to force Hampton out of the zone – or at least extend it – by knocking down some threes and also had little success penetrating, which would have created some open looks for Lang and the other big men.
“I would like to think that our shooting isn’t going to be that poor again (knock on wood – literally),” sophomore point guard Adam Boone (seven points, five assists, two turnovers) said when asked if this was a fluke. “No, it wasn’t a fluke. I think that is an excellent team they have over there and that would diminish their effort.”
Led by increased defensive intensity and a crowd that began to realize UNC could actually lose, the Heels finally got Hampton’s lead under ten - where it had hovered most of the night - and trailed 53-47 with 6:50 left after a nifty move and baseline jumper by Boone.
However, just as things seemed to be going UNC’s way and normalcy was returning to the Dean Dome, Hampton took advantage of a series of missed easy shots and turnovers and cruised to a 10-0 run over a 2:04 stretch to essentially seal the game at 63-47 with 4:07 left. Three of HU’s baskets were layups and another a short four-footer, signifying the control they had on the Heels.
“That was tough,” Lang said. “All of a sudden they were down by like (16) and we were in a hole again.”
Carolina made another run to cut the margin to 71-65 after a Will Johnson put-back with 41 seconds left. But the Heels got no closer and the Pirates salted the game away at the free throw line, hitting 14 straight before missing their final, meaningless two.
“It is certainly disappointing to lose a game,” UNC head coach Matt Doherty said. “I strongly feel that it is my fault for not doing a better job of preparing our team for a zone defense and I take full responsibility for that. I put the guys in a bad position … we got exposed in that regard.”
Carolina didn’t lose just because they couldn’t hit three-pointers or get much creativity from their guards, except for a short second-half stretch. More so it was a smattering of small things that also didn’t go well.
For example, trailing 65-52 with 2:26 left and still with a pulse, Lang missed a wide-open dunk that would have moved momentum a bit more to the baby blue side. Two possessions later and facing a 12-point deficit, Morrison dribbled the ball off his foot near the baseline after an impressive drive, one of 15 UNC turnovers as opposed to just eight for the visitors. Both missed opportunities, rare for UNC in such a situation, made the comeback attempt virtually impossible and embodied why the Heels lost.
The first half offered few positives for the Heels as well. Loose in the beginning, Carolina appeared to tighten as they weren’t able to cut into Hampton’s lead, which was quickly at 17-6 less than four minutes into the contest. From that point on it was like pulling teeth for the Heels as they got no closer than 17-10 and trailed by as much as 15 at 33-18.
Asked if this was a wake-up call, Doherty sharply responded it wasn’t.
“I don’t think it is a wake-up call,” the second-year coach said. “We lost by 31 points in an exhibition game. This is not a wake-up call. (Hampton) is not an ACC team but they’re a good team.”
On this night, the Pirates were definitely a quality team.
“I don’t know. I thought we were aggressive right from the start and made shots,” Hampton coach Steve Merfeld said. “I think initially we jumped on them pretty good because we were shooting the ball particularly well. I think my kids gained a lot of confidence from that.”
Confident they were, and should have been entering the game. Although the Pirates lost three key players from last year’s 25-7 team, the fact that this program, as a No. 15 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, shocked second seed Iowa State in one of the most dramatic first-round upsets in NCAA history.
So the Pirates, who are now 82-86 in Division I after joining the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in 1995, can hang their hats with Western Kentucky and Eastern Washington, a pair of second-tier clubs with major road upsets already. WKU won at No. 4 Kentucky and Eastern defeated No. 9 St. Joseph’s on Thursday night.
Jason Capel led UNC with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman Jawad Williams tallied 10 points in his collegiate debut but was shut out in the second half while playing just seven minutes after the intermission. Freshman Jackie Manuel had eight points and Johnson finished with six.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.