Jan 26, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams reacts to a foul call during the first half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Roy Williams Gets Too Cute, Costs North Carolina Chance at Comeback vs. N.C. State

Roy Williams should know by now that no North Carolina State lead is ever out of reach.

Had he coached with this understanding on Saturday, his Tar Heels could have been on the winning end of the largest second half comeback in ACC history.

Once down 28 points to its less noteworthy in-state rival nearing the under-12 media timeout, North Carolina turned Raleigh’s raging on-court celebration into something of a grim horror show. Pressuring a Wolfpack team that initially lost its interest, then its composure as its comfy lead collapsed, the Heels stormed back and closed within single digits before their comeback fizzled out with less than 30 seconds to play.

Jan 26, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams yells at guard Marcus Paige (5) during the first half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The cruel tease was not unlike anything North Carolina has experienced before. The Tar Heels lodged a similarly tantalizing but incomplete comeback in Maui, where the team slashed a 29-point second-half Butler lead to six, only to lose by 11. If it’s any consolation, at least North Carolina went down with its best in that game.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday, when the team’s tormenting comeback attempt fell short because the best Carolina hoops has to offer this season didn’t see the floor for long enough. Exhibit A: P.J. Hairston, the sophomore sniper who led the Tar Heels in scoring on the night with 19 points. Hairston stuffed the stat sheet in just 17 minutes of action, a whopping two more minutes than quasi walk-on Jackson Simmons logged in the game. Say again?

Simmons, who spent his evening getting bullied, jeered and harassed by C.J. Leslie, was one of two primary subs for Hairston (rising freshman J.P. Tokoto was the other). Of all the players to make an example of, Williams earmarked the one his team could least afford to lose.

Then there’s the curious cameo of Luke Davis, the Gardner-Webb transfer who netted six minutes of destructive court time in which he coughed up three turnovers while getting blitzed on the defensive end by Lorenzo Brown. That’s six more minutes Roy deducted from the Hairston and Tokoto ration merely to send some artificial message to the rest of the team. There’s a time and place for that. This weekend in Raleigh wasn’t it.

Roy Williams likes to explore his bench and overcomplicate his rotations from time to time. He’s notorious for removing underperforming starters—all five at once, even—and integrating walk-ons in high-profile games as a motivational tactic. His peculiar philosophy saved N.C. State, a program disposed to squandering big leads in pressure-packed moments, from its own self-ruin. Rather than letting the Wolfpack unravel by itself, as the team is conditioned to do, Williams interfered with the Pack’s ill-fated natural course. Lucky for Mr. and Mrs. Wuf.

North Carolina’s 13-game winning streak against N.C. State is over not because N.C. State has grown up, but because the Tar Heels head coach hasn’t.

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Tags: Basketball North Carolina Tar Heels

  • http://twitter.com/MandMSportshow M & M Sports Show

    PJ Hairston should have played more than 17 minutes, but when you get down 28 and 30 there isn’t many options for a coach. Plus PJ had three lackidasical turnovers that may have led him to the bench. NC state let UNC back in it but it wasn’t because Roy tried to be cute. Paige was awful last night and Strickland wasn’t any better.

    NC State was the better team last night and probably will be the rest of the season.

    • Evan, Busting Brackets

      When you’re down 28, you bench the underperforming players. You don’t make an example of the one or two guys that came to play. Luke Davis had no business being on the floor at any point last night, and Simmons’ minutes should have been limited.

      Those 15-20 minutes that should have went to Hairston and Tokoto but instead ended up in the laps of Davis and Simmons could well have made up the difference in the score.

      Roy was at the Butler/Texas games. He knows his teams are capable of furious rallies even if they fall short at the end. He also knows NC State is prone to the collapse. Can’t misuse your top performing player(s) like that. Not in that game. Maybe against Boston College or Wake Forest.

      • http://twitter.com/MandMSportshow M & M Sports Show

        Up until that point who came to play??? Just curious because the whole team stunk for a majority of the game. I agree PJ needs more minutes, but Roy did not cost us winning. NC State took it back up to 15 when those starters finished it up before winning by 8.

        • Jarrod

          I agree…Paige was atrocious for most of the game, didn’t blame Roy one bit for giving Davis some minutes because nothing could hurt at that point. I do wish PJ would’ve got some more mins, but most of his points came in that 2nd half surge anyways, so who’s to say he’d have made any difference with more mins early in the game,cuz like you said, nobody was a difference maker early. The biggest concern I had was taking Joel James out when he did, he was having his way in that 2nd half, and I would like to see that more out of him. At the same time, I’m sure Joel can only run up and down the court so much before he gets fatigued, so that could’ve factored in. At the end of the day, we can talk all we want but nobody except the players, coaches, and ppl extremely close to the team knows whats going on in that locker room, so I don’t feel as if it’s our place to blame Roy in a game when we were just flat out outplayed for a majority of it.