Defending champion Tar Heels wind end up in NIT

Defending national champion North Carolina will play another

game after all.

The Tar Heels (16-16) earned a No. 4 seed in the NIT on Sunday

night despite a frustrating season filled with injuries and

youthful mistakes that sent them to their worst finish under coach

Roy Williams.

They will host No. 5 seed William & Mary on Tuesday in

Chapel Hill, which will mark the program’s first NIT appearance

since reaching the third round in Matt Doherty’s final season in

2003.

“Of course we would have liked to have played better this year

and be in the NCAA field, but we did not,” Williams said in a

statement Sunday night. “But we are happy to still be playing

basketball and I hope we will play well in the NIT.”

It’s quite a fall from this time a year ago, when the Tar Heels

were gearing up for what turned out to be a dominating run to the

national championship behind Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne

Ellington. It was their second national title in five seasons under

Williams, but now they’re making their sixth appearance in the NIT

– which they won in 1971.

Williams had won at least one NCAA tournament game the past 20

seasons, and his only previous NCAA-less season came in his first

as a head coach when he inherited a Kansas program on probation

following its 1988 national title.

“That’s a record that I’m extremely proud of, but it’s a record

that’s also stopped,” Williams said after a first-round loss to

Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. “You’ve

got to go on and try to figure out a way to start another

streak.”

After losing to the Yellow Jackets, Williams was clear that he

would accept a NIT invitation while the players said they wanted to

keep playing despite the yearlong struggles.

“If we were lucky enough to get invited, we would definitely

take it and go play and prepare to try and win it,” senior Deon

Thompson said. “And try and find some brightness in the

season.”

Now the Tar Heels are facing a team that won at Wake Forest

earlier this season and is coached by Tony Shaver, who played for

Dean Smith at North Carolina from 1972-75.

In an added twist, the game will be played in Carmichael Arena

because of renovations being done at the Smith Center. Carmichael

Arena was the team’s home for 20 years before moving to the Smith

Center in 1986. The building – where program legends Phil Ford,

Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins once played – hasn’t hosted a

regular-season or postseason men’s basketball game since the move

and is home to the school’s women’s basketball program.

Coincidentally, the first game at Carmichael was an 82-68 win

against William & Mary on Dec. 4, 1965. The arena seated close

to 10,000 in the 1980s, but recent renovations have cut its

capacity to about 6,800.