College Sports

Texas A&M hands UNC its first in-state NCAA tournament loss in 39 years

No one is safe in this NCAA tournament, not the No. 1 overall seed, not the favorites and not even the defending national champions on their home turf.

No. 7 seed Texas A&M added another log to the bracket fire with a 86-65 drubbing of No. 2 seed North Carolina on Sunday afternoon in the second round.

The 2017 champs are going home, a little sooner than expected, and after their first loss in a tournament game played in this state since 1979.

"There's a hundred things I could say and yet there's not a lot to say," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We got beat by a team that played better than we did."

The Tar Heels (26-11) had won 30 straight NCAA tournament games in the state — and had a 17-0 mark under Williams — since an infamous loss to Pennsylvania on “Black Sunday” in Raleigh in 1979. UNC had never lost an NCAA tournament game (12-0) in Charlotte before Sunday.

Two days after No. 1-seeded Virginia lost in the same building, shocked by 16th-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County, the Heels were knocked out, too.

Texas A&M forward Tyler Davis made sure of that and so did an ill-timed poor shooting performance from the 3-point line by UNC. Davis, a 6-10, 264-pound Mack truck disguised as a college basketball player, scored 18 points and helped the Aggies (22-12) take control of the game midway through the first half.

UNC’s undersized lineup, which it rode to get to this point, had no answer for Davis inside. When the Heels did collapse, it left A&M’s shooters open. Wing D.J. Hogg (14 points) and point guard T.J. Starks (21 points) took advantage of the open looks to help the Aggies make 10 3-pointers.

"We just stuck to the game plan, played to our strengths," said Davis, who had nine rebounds and helped the Aggies finish with a 50-36 advantage on the glass.

Senior guard Joel Berry (21 points) led UNC but he was just 2-of-10 from 3 and Luke Maye (13 points) was the only other UNC player to score in double figures. The Heels finished just 6-for-31 from behind the 3-point line.

"At the start of the game, we were getting to the basket, being aggressive and that's what we wanted to do," Berry said. "And then we just started settling for outside shots and the 3 wasn't going in."

Texas A&M led by as many as 24 points, 60-36 at 13:17 after a 3-pointer by Admon Gilder. The Aggies put the game away with a deflating sequence that started with a block of a Theo Pinson layup and ended with a highlight dunk by Robert Williams.

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UNC Tar Heels guard Theo Pinson, left, is embraced by head coach Roy Williams as he walks to the team's in the closing seconds of action against Texas A&M during second round action in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, March 18, 2018. Texas A&M defeated UNC 86-65. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Tonny Trocha-Morelos, one of Texas A&M’s army of big men, swatted a layup by Pinson on one end and then Williams unleashed a windmill dunk on the other end for a 71-51 lead and an exclamation point with 5:49 left in the game.

UNC was actually up 20-13 with 11:34 left in the first half. The Tar Heels got off to fast, energetic start with the partisan Charlotte crowd behind them.

Then Davis started to go to work. Roy Williams tried Maye, Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks and even a 2-3 zone for a possession to attempt to slow the massive junior from Plano, Texas.

Davis scored nine points during a decisive 15-0 Texas A&M run midway through the first half. The Heels, meanwhile, couldn’t buy a basket, especially from the 3-point line.

UNC was just 1-for-13 from 3 in the first half with Berry and Pinson missing all seven of their shots. Berry finally ended a 6-minute drought with a pair of free throws at 5:25.

But Davis wasn’t done. He bullied Brooks, the freshman, for a pair of post baskets to stretch the Aggies’ lead to 36-26.

IMG_TEXASA_M_UNC_11_2_1_Q9DF7OQQ_L379713865.JPG
UNC Tar Heels from left: Cameron Johnson, Joel Berry II, Luke Maye and Theo Pinson, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley sit on the team's bench in the closing seconds of action against Texas A&M during second round action in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, March 18, 2018. Texas A&M defeated UNC 86-65. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Williams finally resorted to a zone at that point, and Hogg responded by draining a 3-pointer from the left wing. Starks followed with a 3 with 9.8 seconds left in the half to make it 42-28.

After a late Texas A&M turnover, UNC actually had a chance with 0.4 seconds left in the half on an out-of-bounds play. Manley found a clearing in front of the basket and had a clean look at a quick tap-in but he couldn’t get the shot to fall in.

It was that kind of game for the Heels, they couldn’t get anything to go their way.

Texas A&M moves onto a Sweet-16 matchup with No. 3 seed Michigan in the West region on Thursday in Los Angeles.

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