TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — By the end of North Carolinas worst loss of the Roy Williams era, Williams and most of his team were already gone.
With 14 seconds left to play in the Tar Heels 90-57 defeat at Florida State, Williams approached Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton. The two spoke briefly. Hamilton nodded in affirmation. And then Williams gestured for his players, assistant coaches and team managers to clear the bench and follow him off the court.
The Tar Heels most seldom-used reserves a group that includes walk-ons Patrick Crouch, Stewart Cooper and David Dupont played the final 14 seconds of the game, which ended as Florida State students and fans rushed the Donald L. Tucker Center court in celebration.
It was a jubilant, chaotic scene while fans filled the court. And it was exactly the kind of scene that Williams wanted to avoid. Afterward, Williams defended his decision to shield his team from a post-game celebration that he suspected might be wild.
Lets make sure that we understand that I was not trying to embarrass Florida State by pretending that they could not control the crowd, Williams said. Thats not what I was trying to do at all. I was just trying to protect our team. We had an ugly incident at Las Vegas and one of our female managers got knocked down.
Williams was referencing the Tar Heels 90-80 defeat against UNLV on Nov. 26 in the Las Vegas Invitational. Fans rushed the court then, too, and one pushed one of UNCs female managers the ground.
Williams didnt want to experience a similar incident after his teams loss against Florida State. Williams said Hamilton agreed with the Tar Heels decision to leave early that Hamilton helped to suggest the idea.
Still, it made for odd scene, what with UNCs walk-ons playing out the final seconds in front the empty chairs where their teammates and coaches had been sitting. Williams asked media members after the game to not focus on his early exit.
Please dont make it that big a deal after what happened at the end, he said. Youll take away from a great victory for Florida State. And that wont be fair. We just tried to be cautious.