North Carolina coach Roy Williams has dealt with a lot of difficult questions this season. Why can't his team score? Play with consistent effort? Hold onto the ball?
And after watching his 10th-seeded squad lose 62-58 to seventh-seeded Georgia Tech in the opening round of the ACC tournament Thursday night, he faced another new interrogative: Do the Tar Heels deserve - or even want - to play in the NIT?
While the Yellow Jackets (20-11), who advanced to play second-seeded Maryland in the quarterfinals at Greensboro Coliseum tonight, are one step closer to an NCAA bid, the defending national champions (16-16) are out of that race. Left is the secondary NIT, which features a 32-team field that will be announced at 9 p.m. Sunday night. And Williams made it clear that he would like to be part of it.
"If somebody's going to go invite me to play, I want to go play - period. The end," said Williams, who had coached his team to at least one win in the NCAA tournament for 20 straight years. "Are we worthy enough to be invited? That I don't know. There's people ... that get to make those decisions; maybe that won't even invite us. But if somebody invites me to go play, we're going to go play."
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The Tar Heels looked like a team that wanted to extend their season at Greensboro Coliseum - outrebounding the Yellow Jackets 26-18 in the first half and using a Tyler Zeller-led 17-0 run to take a 34-24 lead into halftime.
But in the second half, many of the problems that led to their free fall resurfaced.
Georgia Tech opened the second half with a 15-4 run, quickly and efficiently erasing UNC's lead. It followed a pattern of comebacks by Tar Heels opponents against this season.
After holding the Jackets to 34.6 percent shooting in the first half, UNC watched Tech made half of its shots in the second - again exposing the Tar Heels' inconsistent defense.
And with the score tied 56-56 with 5:13 left, the Tar Heels failed to score a field goal the rest of the way, an offensive drought that has become familiar to fans. And players. And the head coach.
"I thought Z got fouled twice when he was going to the basket, and we had another one that was a wide-open look from the 3 [point line], but we also turned it over two times in the last five minutes, and we couldn't get stops at the other end," Williams said. "Marcus [Ginyard] went to the free-throw line and made two free throws - and I hate to keep saying the same thing, but we just couldn't get the ball in the basket."
Tech freshman Derrick Favors led all scorers with 18 points, while Zeller - who missed both of UNC's regular-season losses to the Jackets because of a broken bone in his foot - recorded his first career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds).
It was a tough way for the Tar Heels to officially end their NCAA hopes - although they made it clear they hope this isn't the end.
"We just want to try to find a bright spot in our season," said Deon Thompson, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "To maybe go to the NIT and play well - and who knows? Maybe find ourselves in New York, and possibly winning the whole thing ... it would be a bright spot, and there hasn't really been too many of those.