Carolina took their five-game winning streak into one of basketball’s most iconic arenas last Wednesday for a date with the Syracuse Orange. Ever a hard place to earn a W, the Carrier Dome was its usual orange sea as the Heels took the court and went blow for blow over the course of the night.
With every punch the Heels landed, the Orange countered, keeping Carolina well within reach throughout the entire game.
Theo Pinson continued playing better than he ever has as a Tar Heel, notching a career-high twenty-three points.
Unable to put the game on ice, the Heels gave ‘Cuse three straight chances to tie or take a lead in the contest’s waning minutes. But it was Pinson’s defensive rebound and ensuing foul shots by Joel Berry that finally allowed Carolina to breathe a sigh of relief.
The win in New York stretched Carolina’s streak to six and everyone, myself included, assumed a seventh straight W last night would be a given.
Miami has been quietly pretty good this season, notching nineteen wins prior to their trip to Chapel Hill, but this was the final home game for these Heels and senior night for a few of the team’s most celebrated players.
I can tell you about the game, about Joel Berry’s gutsy performance and how neither he nor Pinson saw the bench in the second half, or Cam Johnson’s work from deep, but why bother, when all that really matters is what transpired in the final nine seconds.
Nine seconds that were eerily reminiscent of another heartbreaking Heels loss that doesn’t need mentioning.
With Miami up three, Berry took the inbound and dashed to the arc’s top right corner, patiently draining a three with just over four seconds remaining. Game tied. Crowd goes bonkers. Overtime on deck.
Hurricane Ja’Quan Newtown wasn’t interested in overtime, however, and with 4.1 ticks on the clock, Newtown took the inbound up the right sideline and canned an absolutely insane forty-foot jump shot to take every bit of air out of the Smith Center and ruin Theo and Berry’s final game in Chapel Hill.
The Nitty Gritty
The loss to Miami was heartbreaking and, more important, potentially cost the Heels a double-bye in the ACC tournament. Had they beaten the Hurricanes, Carolina would have been a lock for a top-four seed in the ACC tournament. And while they still can finish within the conference’s top four (earning them two days off in Brooklyn), there is now a scenario in which Carolina might fall to a fifth seed.
With a loss at Duke and if Clemson and N.C. State win out, Carolina would enter the ACC tournament in fifth place.
Should Carolina lose Saturday and that unlikely scenario not transpire, the ACC standings would end as they are today, with the Heels in third place looking at two restful nights off.
But the solution for Carolina is simple: win Saturday and forget about other scenarios.
The Good News
Everyone seems to be healthy right now, and both Pinson and Berry are playing as well as they ever have. Tuesday’s loss was devastating, but if this team has shown anything, it’s how much grit they possess. This up-and-down season has outfitted these Heels with resolve in spades.
Regardless of what goes down Saturday at Cameron, it’s unlikely that both N.C. State and Clemson win out. Then again, as this season has proven to us around the nation, the only thing that’s guaranteed is the unexpected.
The Bad News
While sufficient information has yet to be released, that the University of North Carolina has been implicated in the FBI’s probe into the NCAA
can only be bad news. We’ll see how this all transpires over the coming weeks and months.