PHILADELPHIA (WNCN) — Older North Carolina Tar Heels fans – including Michael Jordan – are seeking a bit of revenge for losses to Indiana in the NCAA Tournament when the two teams face each other Friday night at 9:57 p.m. in Philadelphia.
In 1981, North Carolina fell to Indiana in the championship in Philadelphia 63-50 in a game that was delayed because of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Then the top-seeded Tar Heels lost to the fourth-seeded Hoosiers 72-68 in a game that ended Michael Jordan’s career. Jordan fouled out with 13 points, going only six of 14 on the day.
But UNC coach Roy Williams hasn’t talked about any of that with his team. “I could be wrong but I don’t deal with that much,” Williams said. “I’m talking about this team, this year… It has historical significance for us and you guys (the media) and your readers.”
He said today’s kids know Michael Jordan more for his Hanes commercials than his playing days. “Kids are in today’s times,” Williams said. “I have a coach that wasn’t even born then.”
On the other hand, Indiana coach Tom Crean has talked about the history of Indiana vs. North Carolina and the history of Philadelphia basketball. In the end though, he said, “you have to be locked into defending and competing against an excellent North Carolina team.”
A game that some involved in this game remember is an 83-59 drubbing the Hoosiers put on the Tar Heels in Bloomington in 2012. Not only are most the coaches still on the two teams, UNC seniors Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James were all freshmen on that team. Paige, as well as Indiana star Yogi Ferrell, started that game. Paige scored 11 while Ferrell scored two but it’s Paige that has a bad taste in his mouth.
“There aren’t a whole lot of positives that we can take from that game,” Paige said. “But we know they can still score the ball. They ran the ball that day. Not many teams like to run with us. But they are a team that’s not afraid to push the tempo.”
Coach Crean said his squad will need to get back on defense and not turn the ball over allowing the Tar Heels to run out for easy baskets.
“What separates this Carolina team is that they pass the ball well in their transition game,” he said adding that that they get out on the break quickly. “You have to get back.”
Offensively, he’s looking for his squad to show great movement and great decision making. On defense, he’s looking for hustle and being ready to rebound. “Their offensive rebounding is astounding,” he said.
Brice Williams has 105 offensive rebounds on the season while Indiana’s top offensive rebounder is freshman Thomas Bryant who has 69.
On the other hand, Indiana has hit 332 three-point shots compared to just 194 for Carolina. The Hoosiers are hitting threes at an amazing 41.6 percentage clip while North Carolina is at only 31.4 percent.
“We haven’t been able to shoot it as much as I thought we would,” Coach Williams said. “We want balance (between getting it inside and shooting threes).”
He said he leans more towards trying to get the ball inside first, adding that more teams win the NCAA Tournament that look inside rather than relying on hitting threes.
“It’s the best for my team right now,” he said, adding that his 2009 team made a lot of threes but that they focused on getting it inside to draw fouls and hit free throws.
That all being said, Williams pointed out that Indiana hits nearly 10 threes per game. “You have to cover their three-point shot,” he said. “We’ll have to play a complete game. We need to get our shots to fall in and have them shoot a less percentage than they usually do.”
Senior Yogi Ferrell leads the way for the Hoosiers with 17.1 points per game while he has dished out 191 assists over the season – that’s nearly 70 more than Carolina’s leading assist man, Joel Berry.
Berry will usually draw the assignment against Ferrell but Marcus Paige will cover him too.
“You have to stay in front of him,” Paige said. “He’s explosive with a quick pull up jumper.” Paige said that the Tar Heels will have to contest everything and try to keep him from driving into the paint.
Ferrell said that Indiana needs to keep Paige from getting the ball in his hands. “Once he gets it, anything can happen for his team,” he said. “We have to limit the touches, limit the attempts.”
If the Hoosiers can play disciplined against the big guys like they did in their win against Kentucky, get back on defense and keep Paige from having a good game, they feel good about making Paige and Johnson’s last Carolina game similar to Jordan’s back in ’84.
“You know about Michael Jordan playing his last game against Indiana,” Paige said. “That doesn’t apply to what’s going to happen on the court tomorrow night.”
Still, long-time Tar Heels fans would like a little revenge.