Roy Williams wasn’t too impressed with anything his team did, especially in the first half, during North Carolina’s 76-67 loss at Indiana on Wednesday. One thing that did impress Williams, though: the environment at Indiana’s Assembly Hall.
A loud and sold-out crowd of 17,222 rocked throughout most of the Hoosiers’ victory. At times the noise was so deafening it felt as though the building might be shaking. Afterward, Williams during his postgame news conference used Indiana’s crowd as an opportunity to critique the crowds he often sees at the Smith Center.
“It was a wonderful crowd,” he said during his opening statement following the defeat. “Gosh. I’d like to play in front of a crowd like that in the Smith Center every night other than the frickin’ Duke game. And that was just – congratulations to them, their fans, their students. It was a big-time crowd.”
This isn’t the first time that Williams had called for more support from his home fans. At times during his 14-year tenure as UNC’s head coach, Williams has bemoaned the lack of atmosphere at the Smith Center, outside of those annual games against Duke.
Tom Crean, the Indiana coach, said “thousands” of students camped out on Tuesday night for a chance to see the Hoosiers’ game against UNC the next night. Hours before the game, those students were lined up outside, a massive horde waiting to claim their seats.
Williams’ comments quickly spread on social media. Brice Johnson, the Tar Heels’ departed All-ACC forward, wrote on Twitter that UNC should move its student section section closer to the court.
“Maybe y’all will rearrange the seating now?” Johnson wrote. “Move the students from in the upper deck to closer to the court!”
The environment at the Smith Center has long been the subject of criticism, even at times from Williams. Sam Cassell, the former Florida State guard, memorably described the Smith Center faithful as “a cheese and wine crowd” after a game there in 1991.
The atmosphere became more lively when UNC moved some of the student section to the floor during Matt Doherty’s tenure in the early 2000s. Even so, Williams apparently still finds it lacking – at least in comparison to what he witnessed at Indiana on Wednesday.
During a recent extended interview, Williams acknowledged that the number of televised games has negatively affected UNC’s crowds. He also said the Smith Center, with nearly 22,000 seats, is too large. He said he’d prefer an arena that seats about 15,000.