Hoyas end Heels' season

CHAPEL HILL – One of North Carolina's most troubling areas over the last couple of years has been its ineffectiveness against zone defenses. <br><br>This season it has truly been a big reason why the Tar Heels did not reach the NCAA tournament. And on Wednesday night, it's why their season ended one game shy of victory No. 20 after falling to Georgetown, 79-74, before a raucous student-heavy crowd of 15,043 in the quarterfinals of the NIT at the Dean E. Smith Center.

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"We came up short against a very good team," UNC coach Matt Doherty said. "But I was proud of our guys for fighting back.

"A couple of turnovers and missed foul shots cost us."

With 15:41 left in the game, the Tar Heels (19-16) led the Hoyas 48-40 after an early second-half eruption that saw the Heels score 16 points (six field goals) in the first 4:19 of the half. But Georgetown's zone defense began to take effect, and combined with UNC's usually futile approach to such resistance, the Hoyas went on a 22-4 run over the next 7:36 to take a 62-52 lead before Doherty called a timeout with his team reeling.

"They pressured, threw some traps at us, caught us by surprise, caught us off guard some of the time," said Raymond Felton (11 points, 11 assists, six turnovers). "We threw the ball away a couple of times and they executed off of it." Rashad McCants said the zone did what it was intended to.

"Zones are created to do that kind of thing," said McCants, who finished with 26 points on 10-13 shooting. "Make you shoot long 3s and take bad shots. We just have to be patient and try to penetrate the gaps and take quality shots."

David Noel recognized it has been an on-going issue.

"That's been our problem all year," Noel said. "We haven't really been able to penetrate a zone and get good shots. I think we've been laying back and settling for 3s, and you can't do that against a great defense like Georgetown's."

In fact, UNC's drought consisted of just one field goal during a 10:04 stretch.

"We haven't been really effective against a zone," Scott said. "I don't know. We are a running team - we like to run. We just sometimes don't get good looks. I really don't know why."

The Tar Heels did lift themselves from what appeared to be certain defeat by going on an electrifying 10-2 run, turning a 68-60 Hoyas advantage into a 70-70 game with 2:03 left after McCants converted a short bank shot in the lane as he was falling down. The play also resulted in the fourth foul on Georgetown's monster center Mike Sweetney, who finished with 22 points and seven rebounds for the Big East team.

McCants missed the free throw, and Carolina never got a chance to take the lead.

Drew Hall nailed a 3-pointer for the Hoyas (18-14) with 58.2 seconds left, and 41 seconds later Gerald Riley sank a pair of free throws with 16.8 seconds remaining, and the game was essentially over.

"That was a tough stretch there – they did what they had to do," Noel said. "We made that run, we kept fighting, we did, but they just came out on top."

Carolina appeared to pick up where it left off in Monday's win over Wyoming by scoring impressively early on. The Tar Heels got early layups either on the break or by sneaking behind Georgetown's defense, and after a McCants 3 and layup jumped out to a 13-8 lead with 16:01 remaining in the half.

The Heels later extended their advantage to 20-12 after a 3-pointer by Jackie Manuel and UNC was showing signs of another cruise-control victory before its vociferous fans.

But Carolina's offense stalled for the final 12 minutes of the half, tallying only four field goals until intermission, in which they trailed, 34-32.

Gerald Riley pumped in 22 points for the Hoyas while Brandon Bowman added 12.

Jawad Williams poured in 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds for UNC, which finished without 20 wins for the second consecutive year after reaching the milestone for 31 straight seasons.

Carolina did shoot 52.9 percent (27-51) from the field, but turned the ball over 18 times, and combined ill-advised shots in the run with an inability, either by design or because of its personnel, to get quality looks with any consistency. And because of it, the Heels' season – and the careers of Jonathan Holmes and Will Johnson – has come to an end.

"It's been great playing with these guys," Noel said. "I've made a lot of new friends, building some new friendships. I just met some of these guys, it's been great. All we can do now is look forward to next year and build into something special."

There are some issues that must be settled before next year's team takes the floor, and likely will for the better of the program. But if the past couple of weeks are any indication, the players have a strong bond, as the locker room suggested on Wednesday night, and their passion on the floor reflected their togetherness as well.

Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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