BROOKLYN, N.Y. — A few minutes after UNC beat Syracuse in their opening game of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday, Roy Williams was ready to put the 78-59 game, and his team, to bed.
“I used to say I wanted to enjoy a victory until 12 midnight,” Williams said. “What time is it now?”
The clock at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Arena read 12:02 a.m. Thursday morning.
Williams shrugged. “I guess we can’t even enjoy the hell out of this one for two minutes.”
That’s life during tournament season, when playing every day is grueling and exhausting but orders of magnitude better than the alternative.
It’s likely that the tired Tar Heels will have no trouble finding another gear on Thursday, when Carolina faces off against Miami.
The Hurricanes upset the Tar Heels on Feb. 27 at the Smith Center in a heartbreaking buzzer beater that brought back memories of UNC’s loss to Villanova in the National Championship game two seasons ago.
“We’ve got a little bit of business against them,” said Joel Berry II, who was one of the fourth-year Tar Heels who saw their Senior Night spoiled. Berry capped UNC’s comeback from a 16-point second-half deficit, hitting a 3-pointer with less than five seconds remaining. Miami’s Ja’Quan Newton then hit a game-winning trey as time expired and his Hurricane teammates dog piled on him in celebration.
“Miami played a big-time game against us,” Williams said. “We couldn’t’ stop them. Jaquan made 10 or 12 of their last 13 or 14 points (he scored Miami’s last nine in the game). We remember that. They remember that. We have to play better tomorrow.”
The Tar Heels also remember the pain and emotion of the last-second loss on a night that has typically belonged to Williams. Since he took over as UNC’s head coach, Carolina had a 13-2 record on Senior Night before Newton spoiled the party for Berry and his senior teammates.
“I’m very excited,” Berry said. “It’s going to be a big-time game for us.”
“It’ll be a good one,” teammate Luke Maye agreed. “It’s going to be a late game. We’ve got all day to prepare. … We get to try to get revenge and get back at them.”
Unlike Carolina, whose Wednesday game tipped off at 9:47 P.M. and, as Williams pointed out, ended close to midnight, Miami had the day off. Carolina’s Senior Day loss, coupled with the season-ending loss to Duke, cost Carolina the double-bye, forcing the Heels to suit up on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to recover a little bit,” Maye said. “We have five guys that played a lot of minutes, but I think we’ll do a good job.”
Regardless of the opponent, the fact that Carolina is still playing is a positive for the team.
“Right now, it’s all about advancing and getting to the next round,” Berry said. “Whatever you’ve got to do, that’s what you’ve got to do. … It’s time to go out there and play ball.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to continue to play basketball,” Maye added.