London Warren and his fantastic hair. Photo by Ryan Kozelka on flyernews.com
Felled by London Warren and his fantastic hair, the North Carolina men's basketball team wasn't successful in its quest to win the NIT championship against Dayton on Thursday night. It was a disappointing end to a frustrating season. After working the Coaches vs Cancer Classic and the awful Duke game to end the regular season, I was fortunate to attend the Heels' brilliant NIT semifinal as a fan on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Ready to go at the Garden
Okay, so it wasn't brilliant, but I was pleased the Heels were able to survive to beat Rhode Island 68-67 in overtime and advance to the final.
Rhode Island. Colors: Baby blue (some would call it Carolina blue) and white. Mascot: Ram. Mascot's jersey number: 23. Hmmm. Suspicious.
Who are the impostors in baby blue? Hard to tell which team is which since Rhode Island copied North Carolina's colors.
At any rate, my husband was kind enough to suggest we go to the game despite his status as a non-sports fan. He was also kind enough to put up with the evil monster I morph into whenever I watch Carolina play. So, while I screamed like a crazy woman, he took pictures at The World's Most Famous Arena.
We arrived at our seats to find folding chairs and a table. (Note to self: WC means wheelchair accessible!) The seats were actually pretty good: One level up from the floor, under one of the baskets on the away team's (Carolina's) side. The folding chairs were comfortable – good for Marc's back – and the table was convenient because it allowed me to have something to slap my hands on in disgust whenever the Tar Heels made a turnover (17 times) or missed a free throw (8 times) or had a sloppy play (countless).
My behavior wasn't completely atrocious; just ask the nice young men who were sitting next to us. (They were able-bodied; they didn't understand what WC meant on the online seating chart, either. Nyeh.) They were rooting for URI; we were rooting for UNC. But it was civilized. We actually apologized to each other after we cheered.
It was a delicate situation. One of the guys is the brother of a Rhode Island player, a freshman by the name of Akeem Richmond. From Sanford. North Carolina. Grew up worshipping the Tar Heels. Was the ball boy for the 2005 NCAA championship team. Wanted to play his college ball in Chapel Hill. Lightly recruited by Roy Williams. Ended up at Rhode Island. The school that ripped off Carolina's colors and mascot. Once the battle lines were drawn between my WC tablemates and me, I told Eric, Richmond's big brother, "I hope your brother does well but his team does not." He said that was fair.
As the sixth man for the Rams this season, Richmond set a URI freshman record with 81 made 3-point field goals and shot 40 percent from long range. When I read that in the Raleigh News & Observer, I knew we were in trouble because the Heels are vulnerable to the 3. (Vulnerable is an understatement. The Heels gave up 16 (!) made 3-point field goals to William & Mary on March 16, their first game of the NIT. As of this writing, Carolina ranked 185th among NCAA Division I schools in 3-point FG defense, allowing opponents to score 34.4% from behind the arc. Not good.)
Despite good season numbers for Richmond and bad season numbers for UNC, the game didn't go according to plan for the freshman from Sanford. He shot 0 for 6 (all from 3-point range), had 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 2 rebounds, and a steal in his debut against the team he loved as a child. Maybe Richmond was nervous because he felt he had something to prove to Carolina. Maybe the big stage in New York City contributed to his jitters. Whatever the reason, it was lucky for Carolina Richmond's shot was off because we had all we could handle from the other Rams.
The Tar Heels defend against Brooklyn native Delroy James.
Falling all over each other
Deon Thompson handles the ball in the first half.
Tied at halftime.
Warming up for the 2nd Half.
Will Graves hangs on the rim after his monster jam.
LDII shoots a 3.
A free throw by Deon.
It's a tight game, and I'm losing my mind!
The Heels devise a strategy in the huddle.
My guys overcame their sloppy play and fought hard to win in OT. Too bad they were outmatched by the Dayton Flyers two nights later. (It was the fantastic hair; I just know it. Or maybe it was the 20 points by Marcus Johnson.) I definitely see good things for the future with the awkward-shooting Tyler Zeller, the rail-thin John Henson, the speedy and aggressive Dexter Strickland, and even the beleaguered Larry Drew II. We should be a very good team next season!