UNC’s Williams considered opting out of ACC semifinal

The Tar Heels coach had concerns after Virginia had its NCAA tournament hopes put in jeopardy by an COVID-19 issue, but eventually decided to play the game as scheduled

UNC basketball coach Roy Williams talks to an official during Friday's ACC Tournament semifinal loss to Florida State (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

GREENSBORO — North Carolina’s run at the 2021 ACC basketball tournament came to an end Friday with a 69-66 loss to Florida State.

But it was nearly over before the game ever started.

Because of positive COVID-19 tests that forced Duke and Virginia to withdraw, with the latter now in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament that starts next week, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said that he seriously considered erring on the side of caution and opting out of Friday’s semifinal game at Greensboro Coliseum. 

“I did think about it, but I don’t think there’s any great answer,” Williams said. “It’s sort of like don’t play football (because) well, you can get hurt crossing the street.

“What’s going on in our world, it’s really been a difficult time. But yes, I did talk about that with one of my coaches. It’s something we’ve been worried about all year.”

That concern has grown exponentially over the past 48 hours because of the postseason implications.

Duke had its season end Thursday just hours before it was scheduled to take the court for its quarterfinal matchup against Florida State. Then Friday morning, on the one-year anniversary of last year’s tournament being halted by the coronavirus pandemic, top-seeded UVA announced that it too could no longer play because of a positive test and contact tracing.

The Cavaliers’ withdrawal gave fourth-seeded Georgia Tech a walkover into Saturday’s ACC championship game.

Although coach Tony Bennett issued a statement saying that UVA is “exhausting all options to participate in the NCAA Tournament,” the decision is now out of his hands.

The NCAA is requiring all players and coaches to have seven consecutive negative COVID tests before being allowed into its tournament bubble in Indianapolis, with games scheduled to begin next Friday.

It’s a situation UNC sophomore Armando Bacot, like all college basketball players with NCAA aspirations, has been following closely.

Despite his coach’s admission that he considered not finishing the ACC Tournament in an effort to limit the team’s risk of exposure leading into NCAA play, Bacot said he never considered the possibility that Friday’s game wouldn’t be played.

“We’ve been in the bubble for a (while) now and I feel like we’ve been doing a good enough job to prevent it from happening,” he said.

Still, he admitted that the threat of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of how and when it can be contracted does concern him.

“Honestly, it’s kind of scary, especially going into the NCAA Tournament not knowing what can happen,” Bacot said. “I’m pretty sure all those teams (that have tested positive) have been following the right measures. 

“You just never know who can get it, where it’s at. It will definitely be interesting to see the next couple of weeks.”

While Williams considered the option of not playing on Friday, it’s a thought that never crossed the mind of his coaching counterpart Leonard Hamilton — who seemed a bit annoyed that someone would even suggest such a move.

“Are you serious?” he said when asked the question during a postgame Zoom. “These kids have made such a tremendous sacrifice all year and our kids have been tremendous. For me to not want to play because of somebody else’s unfortunate challenge would be tremendously unfair and disrespectful to the ACC, to the team, North Carolina — who wanted to play — and for the sacrifices that our players have made.”