By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — It’s as hard for a coach to win 900 games as it is for a young team to be consistent.
A spunky Marquette team made sure that it wouldn’t be Roy Williams’s 900th victim on Wednesday. North Carolina never recovered from a rough start as a fired-up Golden Eagles team led by as many as 18 points on their way to a stunning 83–70 victory at the Smith Center.
Those milestone wins can be elusive. UNC (14–8) lost five consecutive games last season before finally beating Miami to push Williams’ career win total past Dean Smith’s number of 879.
Scheduling nonconference games is a good idea when you win. But when it gives you an NCAA tournament resume-killing Quad 3 home loss to a team that’s now 11–12, it isn’t helpful and makes the road to a tournament berth more challenging. The loss dropped the Tar Heels’ NET ranking from 33 to 44.
Instead of celebrating a milestone, Williams was showing his frustrations after the game. Williams walked out of the press conference after answering a question about what he would say to UNC fans questioning playing a team like Marquette.
“If I’d known we were gonna lose? God almighty, I wouldn’t schedule it, then,” Williams said. “Come on. We can’t operate in damn hindsight. God almighty. If you told me we were gonna lose? Hell no, we wouldn’t have played the game. If you’d told me we were gonna beat the Lakers, I would’ve scheduled them. Carolina fans, they’re not that dumb. If they are, I’ve got no answer for them.”
Garrison Brooks tied his season-high with 18 points but few other Tar Heels found any kind of rhythm. Kerwin Walton made five 3-pointers in the blowout of Louisville but went 2 of 7 from 3-point range and only had eight points. RJ Davis scored 11 and Walker Kessler added 10.
“Practices were okay, but it’s just we’ve had a couple of good wins, and then we turn around and we think we’re a lot better than we really are,” Williams said. “We don’t have the attention to detail. It’s bad coaching, bad coaching. I called a set one time, and they go out and they ran another set. They’re not disciplined enough to do what I say. They went out on the court and changed their minds, so it’s bad coaching.”
The Golden Eagles, who hit 9 of 24 3-point attempts, got 24 points from Dawson Garcia, 17 from D.J. Carton and 15 from Greg Elliott.
After turning the ball over 11 times in a 99–54 victory over Louisville, the Tar Heels had 19 turnovers Wednesday, the third-most this season.
“I think they were more aggressive on the defensive end, but we did some crazy things,” Williams said. “Some of our turnovers, we threw it, a lob, got a big guy running down the court and we throw it over his head out of bounds. We gave the ball to a big post player, he tries to hit the other post player at the basket, throws it behind him. We get an offensive foul twice. So yeah, we’ve made some progression. Getting better with taking care of the ball, but we didn’t have very good judgment today.”
A steal and a 3-point play by Leaky Black with 15:30 left cut the lead to 13 to try to start a UNC rally. The Tar Heels forced six turnovers in the first eight minutes after halftime compared to five in the entire first half.
Carolina couldn’t get it below 10, though, until a Day’Ron Sharpe dunk with 9:17 left made it 63–55 to cap a 6–0 run. A Davis 3-pointer cut it to seven with 7:51 left but UNC never got any closer and the Golden Eagles pushed it back to 16.
The Golden Eagles went up 14–4 on a Carton 3-pointer with 13:48 left in the first half. After UNC went on a 9–0 run with four points from Kessler, two 3-pointers sparked an 8–0 Marquette run to shove the lead back to nine.
Marquette scored four points on one possession to lead 34–21 with 4:41 left in the first half and took a 45–29 halftime lead.
A game after UNC led by a season-high 19 points at halftime, they trailed by a season-high 16. That happens when you turn the ball over on nearly 25% of your possessions.
The Tar Heels face Florida State (13–3, 9–2 before Wednesday night’s game at Miami) at 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) in their fourth consecutive home game before visiting Syracuse (13–7, 7–6) at 7 p.m. Monday. The Seminoles beat UNC on Jan. 16 at Tallahassee, Fla., without star freshman guard Scottie Barnes 82–76.
Marquette 83, Carolina 70
Pool photo by Robert Willett