By R.L. Bynum
It was good to have the Carmichael Arena atmosphere back Sunday to how it should be for every game.
When the crowd was loud and raucous during the fourth quarter of North Carolina’s thrilling 56–47 win Sunday over then-No. 11 N.C. State, I couldn’t help but compare that to two seasons ago. Fans couldn’t attend games because of COVID-19 restrictions. As a reporter, I was lucky to be one of only dozens of people allowed in the arena.
It was surreal and sad. Postgame press conferences were conducted on Zoom even though everybody was in the arena. The contrasts between those games and the win over the Wolfpack are overwhelming. Nobody wants to go back to that game day experience.
Sunday’s atmosphere with a sellout crowd was more like the heyday of the Sylvia Hatchell era, when Tar Heels fans came out in force for big games and were a factor. It was the first sellout since Hatchell’s No. 15 Tar Heels lost 74–67 to No. 12 Duke in overtime on Jan. 25, 2015.
There’s no doubt that the passionate Carolina fans who came out made a difference.
The crowd of 6,319 easily topped the best turnout of last season of 5,230 at the regular-season-ending victory over Duke and the 4,136 who were on hand for last season’s N.C. State game.
Around 70 former UNC women’s players, including Marion Jones, were there for Alumni Day, as well as UNC luminaries such as Roy Williams, Mack Brown and Anson Dorrance. Many athletes from other sports, including men’s basketball players, were also there to cheer on the victory.
Unlike many home clashes with the three-time reigning ACC champions in recent years, there didn’t seem to be as many Wolfpack fans in the stands. The now No. 17 Tar Heels (12–5, 3–3 ACC), who made the biggest jump in this week’s AP poll by going up five spots, didn’t give them much of a reason to be that loud. When they were, they were drowned out.
“It wasn’t just Tar Heels; we know that,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said about the crowd after the game. “To have that many people in the Triangle supporting two really good basketball teams. It’s not lost on me how important that is. It was an awesome crowd [Sunday], a lot of them were Tar Heels, so shout out to our fans. That was a well-watched women’s basketball game.”
Banghart works just as hard as men’s coach Hubert Davis and the players work on their craft with the same tenacity as the men’s players. It was good to see the fans — at least the ones who showed up Sunday — as passionate about the women’s team as the men’s team.
“To have this many people care about the game? How lucky are we that we live 30 minutes from three schools that are ranked and that people care about,” Banghart said. “This is my life’s work, and you don’t want to do it in silence because most of the work you do is in silence. When you get these opportunities, you want them to be something that’s celebrated. And to have that many fans, win or lose, it’s a win for college basketball.”
At Monday’s taping of the weekly “Holding Court With Courtney Banghart” radio at the Sheraton Chapel Hill before a standing-room-only crowd, junior guard Deja Kelly said that being able to pull out a gritty win in front of a sellout crowd was memorable.
“I think this one has meant the most to me personally since I’ve been here,” Kelly said. “That was my first time seeing a crowd like that, playing in front of that many fans and then being able to beat State — which is not really our rival — it means a lot more. It was truly special.”
Her suggestion, of course, is that Duke is Carolina’s main rival, and the ACC-leading and No. 13 Blue Devils (16–1, 6–0) visit Carmichael Arena at 8 o’clock Thursday night. It’s on ACC Network, but the No. 17 Tar Heels need and deserve the in-person support of the fans so that the atmosphere that was so memorable on Sunday can be replicated.
It’s a huge game as Carolina seeks its fourth consecutive victory against a Blue Devils team that’s won 11 consecutive games since its only loss to then-No. 3 UConn, 78–50, on Nov. 25.
Tar Heels fans need to make sellout crowds routine, particularly for a big game like this.
|No. 10 Notre Dame||15–3||24–4|
|No. 11 Duke||14–4||24–5|
|No. 9 Virginia Tech||14–4||24–4|
|No. 23 Florida State||12–6||23–8|
|No. 22 North Carolina||11–7||20–9|
No. 9 Virginia Tech 61, No. 22 North Carolina 59
No. 10 Notre Dame 76, Georgia Tech 53
No. 23 Florida State 61, Wake Forest 60
Syracuse 85, Pittsburgh 55
Louisville 71, Miami 50
Clemson 79, Virginia 69
No. 11 Duke 77, N.C. State 62
No. 22 North Carolina 45, No. 11 Duke 41
No. 10 Notre Dame 68, Louisville, noon, ESPN3
Miami 84, Virginia 75
Boston College 73, Wake Forest 63
Clemson 74, No. 23 Florida State 61
N.C. State 68, Pittsburgh at 63
No. 9 Virginia Tech 65, Georgia Tech 52
End of regular season
|9||Wednesday||W, 91–59||Jackson State||Home||1–0|
|16||Wednesday||W, 93–25||South Carolina State||Home||3–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 76–65||James Madison||Harrisonburg, Va.||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|27||Sunday||W, 73–64||No. 17 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 18 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||Florida State||Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 4 |
|Blacksburg, Va.||9–4, 0–2 ACC|
|5||Thursday||L, 62–58||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||9–5, 0–3 ACC|
|8||Sunday||W, 60–50||No. 10 |
|12||Thursday||W, 70–59||Virginia||Charlottesville, Va.||11–5, |
|15||Sunday||W, 56–47||N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 13 Duke||Home||13–5, |
|22||Sunday||W, 70–57||Georgia Tech||Home||14–5, |
|26||Thursday||W, 72–57||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||15–5, |
|29||Sunday||W, 69–58||Clemson||Clemson||16–5, |
|2||Thursday||W, 73–62||Virginia||Home||17–5, |
|5||Sunday||L, 62–55||Louisville||Louisville||17–6, |
|9||Thursday||L, 75–67||Syracuse||Syracuse||17–7, |
|12||Sunday||W, 73–55||Boston College||Home||18–7, |
|16||Thursday||L, 77–66, OT||N.C. State||Raleigh||18–8, |
|19||Sunday||W, 71–58||Wake Forest||Home||19–8, |
|23||Thursday||L, 61–59||No. 4 |
|26||Sunday||W, 45–41||No. 13 Duke||Durham||20–9, |
|3||Friday||L, 44–40||No. 13 Duke||Greensboro||21–10|
|18||Saturday||W, 61–59||St. John’s||Columbus, Ohio||22–10|
|20||Monday||L, 71–69||No. 12 Ohio State||Columbus, Ohio||22–11|
Photo via @uncwbb