Though UNC (22-7) still has life as certain entrants into the NCAA Tournament field to be announced Sunday evening, it will have to wait yet another year to cut down the ACC Tourney nets for the first time since 1998.
“Craig Smith was sensational,” Roy Williams said. “But really it was their whole club - they’re just a heck of a team. I know they got off to a little bit of a slow start at 0-3 in the league, but they’ve played as well as anyone since then.
“They are extremely efficient offensively.”
Smith, an All-ACC first teamer and second-team all-conference performer Jared Dudley (21 points) etched their names beside Bill Curley and Danya Abrams as Boston College players turning March Madness into sadness for Carolina fans. But unlike when the 21-10 Eagles upset top-ranked UNC in the second round of the 1994 NCAAs, these Tar Heels will get one more chance in the Big Dance.
And frankly whether or not Carolina wins another game, this season will be revered as a remarkable success.
BC may have exposed a chink the Tar Heels’ armor and might have even put a dent in their confidence – only time will tell. However UNC isn’t likely to see a forward combination the likes of Smith and Dudley again any time soon.
The Eagles (26-6), winners of 10 games in their last 11, may have Carolina’s number, but it remains to be seen how many others can match-up as well as Saturday’s opponent.
“We came down here with a purpose and right now we’ve placed ourselves in a position to win the thing,” BC coach Al Skinner said. “Obviously, we’re very pleased with that, but our goal is not over yet.”
Tyrese Rice sank a three with one second remaining before the half to give BC a 43-42 lead into the locker room. Carolina was 7-2 in games it trailed at the half, while the Eagles were 20-1 when leading at the break.
“That shot at the end of the half really helped lift us and took us into the locker room on a positive note,” Skinner said. “I don’t know a better way to lift a team.”
Boston College continued to get the upper hand and slowly forged a nine-point advantage on a three by Sean Marshall with 12:31 to play. Minutes later a three by Dudley and a tip in by Smith gave the Eagles their largest lead 70-56.
The Tar Heels rallied with four straight three pointers – two from David Noel, and one apiece by Bobby Frasor and Reyshawn Terry. But Dudley and Smith answered time and again with key baskets and rebounds.
A pair of Hansbrough free throws made it 78-74 with 3:23 to play. But UNC failed to capitalize on a BC miss the next time down, when Dudley pulled down an offensive rebound and Smith later scored.
“They definitely do inside-out first,” Noel said. “Once they get their inside game established, they kick the ball out to their shooters.”
Down three, the Tar Heels had one last gasp of hope when Rice missed a free throw with four seconds left. But Smith got offensive rebound and heaved the ball triumphantly in the air as time ran out.
“I was thinking we just won a hard-fought battle,” Smith said. “Obviously I ended up getting the ball, and I just had a little celebration.”
The Tar Heels were out-rebounded (28-36) for the first time in 15 contests.
Hansbrough led four Carolina players in double figures with 23 points. Noel added 18 and Terry 17. Wes Miller connected on his first four three-point attempts – seven in a row dating back to Friday night versus Virginia. He finished 4-for-7 from beyond the arc for 12 points.
“This team is very focused and has done an excellent job of playing very close to its potential,” Williams said. “I will expect and I will demand that we continue to do so the rest of our season.”