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March 11, 2010

UNC collapses in second half against Georgia Tech

GREENSBORO, N.C. - In the North Carolina locker room, there was disappointment but not surprise.

The problems that have dogged the Tar Heels all season -- most notably poor shooting and inconsistent effort -- appeared again in their 62-58 loss to Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

Those maladies turned what was shaping up to be an upset into a familiar feeling of letdown in what could be Carolina's last game of the season unless it is offered a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.

"It's so frustrating because we showed flashes of what we can be," said point guard Larry Drew II, who had four turnovers and no points in the second half. "We'll play that way for a little while, and then we just stop. Trying to find that consistency has been a problem for this team all year."

Carolina (16-16), being well out of range of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, needed to win the ACC Tournament to get into the Big Dance.

"We looked at it like another new season," Deon Thompson said. "We just came out in the second half and let them win the game."

Despite allowing the Yellow Jackets (20-11) to start the second half on a 7-0 run and eventually take the lead, UNC was within three points with less than a minute to go.

But given that the Tar Heels couldn't manage a field goal over the game's final five minutes -- and that long-range shooting has been a season-long bugaboo -- it seemed only appropriate that their last gasp was an air-balled 3-point attempt with three seconds remaining by Will Graves, who was 2-for-12 shooting in the game.

"They hit us hard to start the second half, and it put us back on our heels," said Tyler Zeller, who had his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. "It was back and forth after that, but they made the plays."

Things started out promisingly for Carolina, which went on a 17-0 run to put the Jackets in a 13-point hole.

UNC held Tech without a field goal for more than seven minutes during that stretch and used it to take a 34-24 lead into the locker room at the half.

"I thought in the first half, it felt good, and we looked like a good team," said Thompson, who scored six of his 10 points before halftime. "We were taking care of the ball and getting good shots."

And even when the Heels weren't getting the best of looks -- they shot 36 percent in the first half -- they made up for it with 14 offensive rebounds.

Those types of hustle plays made Carolina look like a motivated team, one out to spoil things for the Yellow Jackets, who desperately needed a win to reinforce their NCAA Tournament resume.

Then, with the start of the second half, the good plays vanished.

Where there had been 20 minutes of chemistry, instead all the Tar Heels found was confusion while Georgia Tech erased its deficit and eventually took the lead.

"We're all searching for answers of why that is," Graves said.

It's been a season-long search, perhaps making it a perfectly appropriate way for Carolina's season to come to an end if there is no postseason bid.

But the Tar Heels are hoping to take the floor again, even if it is in the NIT.

"It's definitely a disappointing way to end," senior Marcus Ginyard said. "I'm hoping and praying it's not our last one."

Despite his frustration, UNC coach Roy Williams -- who will have his personal 20-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances broken -- shared the sentiment.

"If somebody's going to invite me to play, I'm going to play," Williams said. "Are we worthy enough to be invited? That I don't know."


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