WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — North Carolina coach Roy Williams lost his first opening-round NCAA Tournament game in 30 tries as ninth-seeded Wisconsin blew out his eighth-seeded Tar Heels 85-62 on Friday night.
“I thought (Wisconsin) played very well and Roy Williams didn’t coach very well,” Williams said.
Brad Davison scored 29 points and D’Mitrik Trice added 21 points for Wisconsin.
The Badgers (18-12) had lost four of five entering the tournament, but they remained confident because the losses were against ranked teams Iowa, Illinois and Purdue, and all were by five points or fewer.
“Obviously, our league has been phenomenal and it was such a grind to go through, specifically the schedule we had down the stretch,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “The schedule maker must not like me or us. But it prepared us and it tested us as we came down the stretch of the Big Ten, and thankfully it prepared us for this, and being ready to take steps forward at the end of the year.”
Wisconsin negated North Carolina’s size advantage by draining 13 of 27 3-pointers. The Badgers advanced to play the South Region’s top seed, Baylor, on Sunday.
The Badgers entered with a 4-42 record at Mackey Arena, home of Big Ten rival Purdue. They looked right at home on Friday, shooting 51% from the field overall and 57% in the second half.
Although Williams had won all 14 of his first-round games with Kansas and his first 15 with UNC, the loss by this uneven Tar Heels team was hardly a shock. North Carolina never won more than three straight games all season.
Armando Bacot scored 15 points for UNC (18-11) and Garrison Brooks and Caleb Love added 10 each. It brought a close to a trying season for Williams, who managed a roster that included eight freshmen.
“I started the season when I was 70 years old and I feel like I’m 103 now,” he said. “It has been a trying year … 2020 and the first part of 2021, I haven’t enjoyed that much.”
The game was tied at 16 before Wisconsin took control. Davison spun around, lost his defender, stopped and drained a 3-pointer that put the Badgers up 35-24 late in the first half.
Davison hit another 3 with 34 seconds left in the half to make it 40-24 and bring the boisterous Wisconsin fans to their feet. That score held until halftime, and the Wisconsin backers stood and cheered throughout the final seconds. They made quite a bit of noise — the Badgers brought a larger group of fans than other schools because of the relatively close proximity to Purdue.
North Carolina chipped away with baskets in close before a 3-pointer by Wisconsin’s Nate Reuvers rimmed out, then in, to push to advantage to 58-43 with 12 minutes to play.
The Badgers remained in control from there.
“For us, we’re here to make an impact and make a run in this tournament,” Davison said. “What you go through in the regular season – all the ups and downs and the hills and valleys – it’s what meshes you together and binds you together and prepares you for these moments. This is why you come to Wisconsin, for these moments right here.”
North Carolina, known for its size, got outrebounded 37-34 as Gard tinkered with his lineups. The Badgers at times played 6-foot-10 Micah Potter and 6-11 Nate Reuvers together, something that rarely happened during league play. Potter had nine points, four rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes and Reuvers had seven points and five rebounds in 26 minutes.
Williams was impressed with how Wisconsin matched his team inside.
“Not many people have done that, so their coaching staff got them to be more in tune and in focus with going after rebounds,” he said.
Williams, on how he hopes his young team responds: “That’s what I hope they use it as, as fuel. Basketball can be the greatest game in the world, and when you lose it’s like somebody reaches in and grabs your heart and shakes it right in front of you.”