The last time William & Mary defeated the University of North Carolina in men's basketball, Larry Bird turned 21 years old, Egypt threw the USSR's diplomatic corps out of the country, and I was eagerly awaiting the Steve Grogan jersey that I just knew Santa would be bringing me. W&M defeated then-no. 2 Carolina, 78-75, in Williamsburg on December 7, 1977. The game made such an impression in Tribe hoops lore, that I recall seeing bumper stickers commemorating it on College vehicles during my graduate tenure at W&M, some 20 years later.
Four seasons ago, W&M led Carolina, 75-72, with five minutes left in an NIT first-round game in Chapel Hill, but never scored another point as the Tar Heels went on to win, 80-72. The next year, Kyle Gaillard scored 25 points on a variety of dunks, threes, and athletic drives, but UNC drilled the Tribe, 85-60 in the teams' most recent meeting.
Tonight, in W&M's final non-conference outing, Tony Shaver takes the Wrens back to his alma mater to face the 19th-ranked Tar Heels. UNC comes in at 9-3, beating a Florida team that drubbed the Tribe, and boasting wins over Ohio State and UCLA (the latter less impressive than it might've seemed a few weeks ago). Meanwhile, W&M stands at 6-4 after losing three of four, including a 69-62 defeat at Old Dominion that prompted the generally circumspect Shaver to offer some choice words about his team to Daily Press scribe Dave Fairbank.
"My biggest disappointment," Shaver said, "is we're
not tough enough to win these games on the road right now. We knew
coming into this game, the No. 1 statistic, the most vital thing we
could do was rebound the ball and we gave up 15 offensive rebounds and
20 second-chance points. We've got no chance to win if we do that."
Carolina, led by 6'9" big men Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, outrebounds its opponents by nearly 10 caroms per game, while junior guard Marcus Paige paces the balanced Heels with 13.6 points per game. Roy Williams pushes the tempo, while Shaver's Tribe has yet to allow an opponent to top 70 points in a game this season.
In sum, a scuffling W&M squad with doubts about its fortitude heads to Chapel Hill to play against a bigger, faster team whose strengths (athleticism, rebounding, depth) align neatly with the Tribe's weaknesses.
The only question, as I see it, is how many we win by.