CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Texas A&M had its big men relentlessly snatching down loose rebounds, its wing players knocking down shots and an entire roster full of guys playing with aggressive confidence.
Stunningly, reigning national champion North Carolina found no match for any of it.
And just as shockingly, the Tar Heels are heading home with the most-lopsided NCAA Tournament loss of Roy Williams’ Hall of Fame career.
The seventh-seeded Aggies manhandled the Tar Heels 86-65 Sunday in the second round of the West Region, marking the second straight year the titleholder has been bounced from March Madness before the Sweet 16. They dominated the glass. They used their size to control the paint and block shots. And they pounced when UNC’s small-ball lineup couldn’t make an outside shot.
The Aggies are moving on to the round of 16 for the second time in three seasons.
“We had a certain togetherness today,” said the 6-foot-10 Tyler Davis, who had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Aggies. “We didn’t have the fastest start, but we were together the whole time.”
It was a big upset based on the seeding, North Carolina’s tournament tradition and the fact the Tar Heels have long been practically unbeatable in NCAA games played in their home state. Yet Texas A&M — a team that peaked at No. 5 in the AP Top 25 in December before going on a wild ride due to midseason injuries and suspensions — sure made it all look, well, routine.
As for the second-seeded Tar Heels (26-11), any dream of making a third straight Final Four or repeating as champ was all but gone barely 90 seconds into the second half as the Aggies (22-12) went up 20.
“It’s the most inadequate feeling I’ve ever felt,” Williams said. “I feel it all the time, last game of the year, but I think I felt it more today than any other time. I’m not ashamed to say I love these kids.”
Davis and fellow 6-foot-10 forward Robert Williams helped the Aggies take a 50-36 rebounding advantage against a team that still managed to rank second nationally in rebounding margin, with Williams finishing with 13 rebounds. T.J. Starks scored 21 points to lead the offense, which shot 52 percent and made 10 of 24 3-pointers — several coming with cool composure any time UNC tried to muster a push.
Joel Berry II scored 21 points in his final game for UNC, which fell to 34-2 in NCAA games in their home state, the only other loss coming in 1979. The Tar Heels shot just 33 percent, including 6 of 31 (.194) on 3-pointers.
It came on the same court where, two nights earlier, UMBC made history by becoming the first 16-seed to beat a 1 when the Retrievers upset top overall seed Virginia. And as with that game, the upstart dispatched the favorite with surprising ease.
Williams’ previous worst loss in NCAA play had come in the Tar Heels’ 84-66 loss to his former Kansas program in the 2008 Final Four. This was also UNC’s worst NCAA Tournament loss since falling by 23 points to Arkansas in the 1990 Sweet 16.
And it was the worst loss by a reigning national champion since Arizona’s 25-point loss to Utah in the 1998 Elite Eight.
“(Williams) is a very athletic guy, he was going up and getting the rebounds,” Berry said. “Tyler Davis, he was a man on the boards, and a man inside. And there was just nothing we could do about it.”
Texas A&M: The Aggies beat Providence in Friday’s opening round, a win fueled by a dominating performance by Williams and Davis on the boards. And they were playing for only their third trip to the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They earned it in impressive and unexpectedly dominant fashion.
“They’re an up-and-running team, they’re a great shooting team,” Robert Williams said. “We felt like we had an advantage on the inside, and once we played in the halfcourt, we could slow them down. And that’s what we did.”
UNC: Everything was set up for the Tar Heels to continue their final-month ascent. Instead, they couldn’t buy a 3-point shot, struggled to rebound against a bigger team and offered little more than a meager resistance.
THE DECISIVE PUSH
The Tar Heels led 20-13 early only to see the Aggies go on 15-0 run to change the entire dynamic of the game. Davis got loose for three baskets inside while UNC started missing shot after shot.
By halftime, the Aggies had pushed to a 42-28 lead, and then got 3-pointers from Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg to open the second half and push the margin to 48-28. The Tar Heels got no closer than 17 again to stun a crowd that was wearing a lot of blue.
“We knew we needed to keep attacking,” A&M coach Bill Kennedy said.
END OF THE ROAD
After a heartbreaking title-game loss to Villanova in 2016 followed by last year’s title win against Gonzaga, the Tar Heels found themselves eliminated on the tournament’s opening weekend for the first time since 2014. UNC had won 12 of 13 NCAA Tournament games dating to its 2016 finals run before Sunday.
The loss showed again how difficult repeating is for reigning champions a year after 2016 title winner Villanova lost to Wisconsin in the second round. A national champion has not advanced past the Sweet 16 in 11 consecutive tournaments, while Duke (1991-92) and Florida (2006-07) remain the only repeat champions since UCLA’s run of seven straight ended in 1973.
The Aggies advanced to the regional semifinals in Los Angeles to face third-seeded Michigan, which beat Houston on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer Saturday.
This story clarifies that loss is Williams’ biggest margin of defeat in NCAA Tournament play.
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