TEXAS A&M 86, NORTH CAROLINA 65
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Reigning national champion North Carolina sputtered to the worst NCAA Tournament loss of Roy Williams' career on Sunday night, overpowered in its home state by Texas A&M, 86-65.
It's the second consecutive year the titleholder has been bounced from March Madness before the Sweet 16.
T.J. Starks scored 21 points and the No. 7 seed Aggies (22-12) manhandled the No. 2 seed Tar Heels. They dominated the glass. They used their size to control the paint and block shots. And they pounced when UNC's small-ball lineup couldn't make an outside shot.
"We had a certain togetherness today," said the 6-foot-10 Tyler Davis, who had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Aggies. "We didn't have the fastest start, but we were together the whole time."
Another 6-10 forward, Robert Williams, finished with 13 rebounds, helping the Aggies take a 50-36 edge while shooting 52 percent -- including 10 of 24 from three-point range.
Joel Berry II scored 21 points in his final game for the Tar Heels (26-11), who were trying to reach their third consecutive Final Four. But they ended up falling to 34-2 in NCAA games in their home state, the only other loss coming in 1979.
"It's the most inadequate feeling I've ever felt," Williams said. "I feel it all the time, last game of the year, but I think I felt it more today than any other time. I'm not ashamed to say I love these kids."
The Tar Heels shot just 33 percent, including 6 of 31 (.194) on three-pointers after entering the game shooting nearly 37 percent from behind the arc.
It came on the same court where, two nights earlier, Maryland-Baltimore County made history by becoming the first 16 seed to beat a 1 seed when the Retrievers upset Virginia. And as with that game, the upstart dispatched the favorite with surprising ease.
Williams' previous worst loss in NCAA play had come in the Tar Heels' 84-66 loss to his former Kansas program in the 2008 Final Four. This was also UNC's worst NCAA Tournament loss since falling by 23 points to Arkansas in the 1990 Sweet 16.
Meanwhile, the Aggies -- who peaked at No. 5 in the AP Top 25 in December before injuries and suspensions helped lead to an 0-5 start in the SEC -- are moving on to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.
The Tar Heels were a very different team than last year's title winner, namely in the way they leaned on a small-ball lineup. But expectations grew that they could make a third consecutive Final Four run as UNC found a final-month groove, including two victories against Duke and a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game.
Instead -- after a heartbreaking title-game loss to Villanova in 2016 followed by last year's title victory against Gonzaga -- the Tar Heels found themselves eliminated on the tournament's opening weekend for the first time since 2014.
The Tar Heels led 20-13 early only to see the Aggies go on 15-0 run to change the entire dynamic of the game. Davis got loose for three baskets inside as the Aggies asserted themselves in the paint, while UNC started missing shot after shot.
By halftime, the Aggies had pushed to a 42-28 lead, then got three-pointers from Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg to open the second half and push the margin to a stunning 20 points.
Amazingly enough, the Tar Heels got no closer than 17 again to stun a crowd that was wearing a lot of blue and expecting the Tar Heels to advance.
UNC had won 12 of 13 NCAA Tournament games dating to its 2016 finals run before Sunday.
Its loss showed again how difficult repeating is for reigning champions a year after 2016 title winner Villanova lost to Wisconsin in the second round. A national champion has not advanced past the Sweet 16 in 11 consecutive tournaments.
Everything was set up for the Tar Heels to continue their ascent, from entering with 10 victories in 13 games to playing in their home state where they had been practically unbeatable in NCAA games. Instead, they couldn't buy a three-point shot, struggled to rebound against a bigger team and offered little more than meager resistance as the Aggies played with aggressive confidence.
The Aggies beat Providence in Friday's opening round, a win fueled by a dominating performance by Williams and Davis on the boards. And they were playing for only their third trip to the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They earned it in impressive and unexpectedly dominant fashion.
The Aggies advance to the regional semifinals in Los Angeles to face No. 3 seed Michigan, which beat Houston on a buzzer-beating three-pointer Saturday.
Texas A&M’s Robert Williams (44) celebrates after being fouled by North Carolina’s Theo Pinson (1) during the first half of Sunday’s men’s NCAA Tournament game in Charlotte, N.C. The Aggies won 86-65 to knock off the reigning national champion, making it the second consecutive year the titleholder has been bounced before the Sweet 16.
Sports on 03/19/2018
Print Headline: Aggies bounce small-ball Tar Heels