For a brief 20 minutes it looked like North Carolina could pull off the upset and advance to their fifth Sweet Sixteen in the past seven years.
Then everything took a turn for the worst.
The second half doomed the Tar Heels as they saw Kansas outscore them 49-28, to eventually win 70-58. The Tar Heels led by 9 at the end of a very sloppy first half which saw both teams struggle to score early and often.
But even after a halftime lead, the Tar Heels saw their season end the same way it did last year: a loss to Kansas by 12.
So what went wrong in the dreadful second half that doomed the Tar Heels chances to keep their season alive?
Kansas made adjustments: Even with a poor shooting first half, the Tar Heels had control of the game. Momentum was defiantly in their favor at times in the first half, even with a virtual home game for Kansas.
Carolina jumped out to a 12-2 lead early despite it’s poor shooting, but its the start that they needed if they wanted to win this game. It seemed like everything was going their way early on, and a mini-run into halftime solidified their 9-point halftime lead.
Then the second half arrived.
It was clear from the start when Kansas went on a run and eventually took the lead, that it was a different Kansas team. It was a Kansas team that actually played like the number one seed they were given. Backed by their home crowd, the Jayhawks took it to Carolina.
Kansas made halftime adjustments and it lead to their advancement in the NCAA Tournament. The adjustments were everywhere for the Jayhawks. They turned up the defensive intensity and forced Carolina turnovers that would eventually doom them.
On the offensive end, they finally got Jeff Withey going. Withey struggled early in the game and looked like he couldn’t hang on to a pass to save his life. The second half however he got good looks and took advantage of it.
Carolina looked sluggish throughout the half by forcing up bad shots, not establishing an offensive rhythm and playing poorly on defense.
Poor shooting: We have seen this Tar Heel team struggle on the offensive side of the ball a few times this season. We have also seen them put together a few nice offensive performances.
Today will add another tally to the struggle side.
Carolina shot just 30.1% from the field, their second worst in a NCAA Tournament game. It came at a bad time as they were looking to upset Kansas.
The Tar Heels struggled early and often, and couldn’t get their offense on track. They missed several close range shots that could have put them up big early on in the game. They also didn’t get a solid performance from the two guys I thought needed to have big games in Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. Bullock and Hairston went a combined 7 for 24 from the field.
Carolina missed a chance to extend their lead early: North Carolina didn’t have the best shooting start to the game, but they found themselves up early with a 12-2 run to start the game. It was the start the Tar Heels needed, and had them in position to jump out to an even bigger lead, and potentially a knockout blow later in the second half. That never happened.
Carolina missed several chances to open up their lead to a bigger margin, and it came back to bite them. The Tar Heels led early and Kansas was struggling from the field and having trouble holding on to the ball. Carolina forced 12 Kansas turnovers in the first half, but couldn’t fully capitalize on it.
With Kansas struggling early in the first half, the Tar Heels missed several shots to extend their lead. Something that would have been huge in the making for an upset. If Carolina opens up a bigger lead, it could have been a different story.
Instead Kansas fought back and eventually put their foot on the gas and move on to the Sweet 16.
Kansas is a better team: Before you say “Duh”, which I know is going to be a common reaction, let me just say that Kansas did struggle against Western Kentucky.
They also didn’t look to great early on against Carolina. But then, the real Kansas team that earned a number one seed and looked impressive throughout the regular season showed up.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of for Carolina. I believe the Tar Heels have a brighter future with a fresh recruiting class and a team that I didn’t expect to do much this season.
I expected the Tar Heels to lose to Kansas, but I also thought it could have been a complete blow out. Carolina proved me wrong however and did keep it close.
Relax Tar Heel fans, the future is bright.