While quite a few people were making the joke about Carolina yesterday that it was appropriate for the Heels’ season to be ending on April Fools Day, I actually found it much more apropos that the final game of the 2009-10 UNC season was played on Maundy Thursday. This was the day, after all, that Jesus went to the garden at Gethsemane to speak to God, saying “Father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering pass from me.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but the idea seems in line with the attitude of the UNC fan base going into this game - we were all just ready for the pain to be over, one way or the other. I don’t get the sense that Carolina fans were really putting a great deal of stock in winning this game, and in a sense I’m glad in a few ways that Dayton won - it probably means more to a small A-10 school, and Carolina doesn’t have to face the ironic ignominy of having a “2010 NIT Champs” banner hanging in the Smith Center, or having merchandise bearing that slogan waved at them for the next few seasons. Better to have redeemed themselves somewhat in the eyes of their supporters, and then fade away without leaving too much permanent ink in the record books. Sure, there are a few marks this team will take away - second most losses by a UNC squad ever, but certainly not the second-worst Carolina team ever, as those numbers come with the high number of games played in the modern era.
There’s honestly not much to even gain by talking about the actual NIT Championship itself here - the game was kind of secondary to the moment of closure it provided on the season. Carolina got outrebounded and outhustled by a team that wanted it a bit more, they turned the ball over in a myriad of ways, and they shot poorly from the FT line and from the field at times - those parts weren’t all that surprising. They did show some toughness cutting a 13-point deficit at the half into 4 points in a matter of minutes, a muster of moxie this team wasn’t able to show during ACC play. And just when they looked to be nearly over the hump, Dayton kept hitting big shots, and UNC was never able to take control. It seems this team’s destiny was to fall short once again.
And maybe that’s all part of the plan, in the end. Much has been made this year by UNC’s own fan base of how spoiled the Carolina faithful are, and there is plenty of support to that theory. But this season made us appreciate nights like this - I didn’t see a great deal of disappointment on Twitter or Facebook after the loss, mostly just fans saying they were proud of the team for battling. There is time to speculate on how good this team can be next year, and even a time for a postseason moratorium where we can wonder how good this year’s team could have been, but for now, it was a good time just to lay to rest all the agonizing over this team we’ve done this year and let our collective frustration go. We’ve all struggled watching this team, and it’s time for that to be over, and just be thankful for a few things, including Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard, who performed admirably in their last game as collegiate athletes. We’re thankful Larry Drew is starting to show progress (though as someone mentioned on Twitter, “better” and “really good” are still quite a ways apart). We’re thankful for some really nice displays of athleticism from John Henson and Tyler Zeller - nice to know this team can still be highlight-reel worthy on occasion. We’re thankful Roy made it through the season without three veins popping out of his forehead. Mostly, we’re thankful this whole ordeal is over.
Now all that’s left is to root for Duke to lose…