Wisconsin ends UNC’s season in NCAA blowout

Wisconsin’s Aleem Ford (2) grabs a rebound next to North Carolina’s Walker Kessler (13) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Friday, March 19, 2021, at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — North Carolina’s season came to an end when the Tar Heels suffered an 85-62 loss to No. 9 seed Wisconsin at Purdue’s Mackey Arena on Friday night.

The Tar Heels never led as the Badgers overwhelmed them from the start. Despite having just two players 6-foot-10 or taller, Wisconsin was able to throttle UNC’s quartet of big men. Garrison Brooks shot 1 of 7 in the first half as he, Armando Bacot, Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe combined to go 2 of 11 with four turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.

Wisconsin was also able to drive and score at the rim on the other end, at one point getting baseline drives to the rim for dunk attempts on three straight possessions (one was blocked from behind).

Brad Davison was able to drive and score, putting up 16 points in the first half. As the Tar Heels played off him to cut off his dribble attack, Davison responded by hitting all three of his second-half 3-point attempts to finish with a game-high 29 points.

Wisconsin closed the first half on an 8-0 run, part of a larger 13-3 spurt, to take a 16-point lead at the break. UNC, which has frequently fallen behind early only to storm back, was unable to mount a second-half rally, never cutting the margin to single digits after the half.

Brooks finished what was likely his last game as a Tar Heel — although the NCAA allows seniors to return for an additional year of eligibility if they want — by going 4 of 12 from the field. He was blocked on at least four layup attempts.

After going 1 of 2 in the first half, Bacot responded by hitting 5 of 7 in the second half for a team-high 15.

Three thoughts

1. UNC’s rickety perimeter defense again bit the Tar Heels. Carolina allowed Wisconsin to hit 6 of 14 from three in the first half, then did even worse in the final 20 minutes, allowing the Badgers to knock down 7 of 13 from three.

2. The Carolina bigs also struggled on the boards. UNC came into the game with the nation’s best rebounding margin but were outrebounded by the smaller Badgers. Wisconsin also pulled down nine offensive rebounds in the game.

“Those (Wisconsin) seniors, when you get into tournament play, they really, really want something and work extremely hard for it,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “They were more in tune, more focused, had better desire and were more alert (than us).”

3. The Badgers’ game plan also allowed Wisconsin to shut down UNC’s leading shooter, freshman Kerwin Walton, who went a good portion of the first half before getting off a shot. He was 1 of 2 at the break and finished just 2 of 4 for eight points.

Number to Know

6 of 21 — While Wisconsin made 6 of 14 threes in the first half, UNC shot just 6 of 21 from inside the 3-point arc in the first 20 minutes. They finished the game 20 of 52 from two-point range.

They Said It

“It’s a hard year to push and pull, push and pull every other day to try to get something done, but how can you be any luckier than Roy Williams is, coaching basketball.”

—UNC coach Roy Williams

Player of the Game

Anthony Harris — There isn’t much to choose from. Bacot was the high scorer but he was a non-factor in the first half when the game was decided. Harris was the only other Tar Heel to shoot over 50% at 3bof 5 for six points.

Critical thinking

The upperclassmen have suffered through a tough year marred by COVID after a tough season last year. Carolina is a program that prides itself on its history, and the group will be unfairly maligned for the last two seasons after having the worst year in Williams’ career in 2019-20, losing at home to Clemson for the first time ever and now losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the coach’s career.