North Carolina guard Joel Berry II (2) drives against Duke guard Frank Jackson (15) in the second half of Friday's Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinals game in Brooklyn, N.Y. UNC lost 93-83 but received a No. 1 seed in the South Regional for the NCAA Tournament and will meet Texas Southern on Friday in Greenville, S.C.
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
Despite a 93-83 semifinals loss to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, North Carolina (27-7) locked down a No. 1 seed in the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels will play No. 16 seed Texas Southern (23-11) on Friday at approximately 4 p.m. in Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.
If victorious, UNC will play the winner of No. 8 Arkansas (25-9)-No. 9 Seton Hall (21-11) on Sunday.
The rest of the South Regional has Kentucky as the No. 2 seed, UCLA as the No. 3 seed, and Butler as the No. 4 seed. The Sweet 16 and regional championship will be played in FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee.
North Carolina is a No. 1 seed for the 16th time, more than any other school, and the seventh time in head coach Roy Williams’ 14 years that the Heels have been a No. 1 seed.
“I’m very pleased with what our team accomplished, because they don’t give those things (No. 1 seeds) away, you have to earn them,” Williams said in a release Sunday. “I think we’re a top seed for the body of work during the course of the season, winning the ACC regular season by two full games and playing a very good schedule out of conference.”
Williams added that his team will use its loss to Villanova in the championship game last year as motivation while remembering how fun the run was in 2016.
“I asked my entire team, ‘What’s the most fun you ever had in basketball?’” Williams said. “Every one of them said last year — the last win over Duke to win the ACC regular season, winning the ACC Tournament and the run to the NCAA championship game.
“I said, ‘Let’s remember that and make sure we’re focused this year like we were last year.’”
LEAVING BROOKLYN DISAPPOINTED
The Tar Heels made easy work of Miami 78-53 on Thursday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals before falling to rival Duke on Friday. The Blue Devils would win four straight games to clinch the conference tournament title.
Against the Hurricanes, senior forward Isaiah Hicks led UNC with 19 points as four Tar Heels scored in double figures. The win avenged a late January loss for UNC at Miami.
In the semifinal game against Duke, North Carolina went into halftime with a seven-point lead before the wheels game off in the second half. Joel Berry II picked up two quick fouls early in the second forcing Williams to have to sit his his star point guard at the 15:04 mark. Berry would spend over 10 minutes on the bench as Duke took the lead behind a 20-4 run. The absence of Berry further showed how critical the junior guard is for UNC.
“I think our offense stopped moving,” Williams said after the game. “It had an effect. ... Our whole offense got stagnant and our whole defense was bad.”
It was hard for Berry to watch his team struggle while he sat helplessly on the bench.
“It was brutal,” the junior said in the locker room after the loss. “I hate that I was on the bench. I just wanted to be out there. When they came back and got the lead. I was just itching. I wanted to be out there so bad. ... It was hard. I just wish I was out there to help them to be able to compete, but that got taken away from us.”
JACKSON TAKES RESPONSIBILITY
After the game, UNC junior Justin Jackson sat in the locker room, speaking to the media and taking the blame for the loss. He scored 16 points, but was 6 for 22 from the floor for the game and 3 for 15 in the second half.
With Berry out of the game, someone had to step up. No one did.
“They made plays whenever we didn’t and I didn’t play as well as should have so I’ll take this one,” Jackson said. “I didn’t play the way I needed to to help my team. I got to learn, we’ve got to learn, and move forward.
“For me as an individual there is no way I can play like that and help our team. So I have to play better for sure. That’s on me.”
However, Williams believes that Jackson is putting too much pressure on himself.
“The last three games, Justin hasn’t been the player he was before,” the Tar Heels coach said. “I think he’s putting too much pressure on himself. I think he’s trying to do too much and perhaps take some shots that weren’t quite as good.”
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.