Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 3/11/12
ATLANTA Selling the theory of the "good loss" to sweaty, exhausted competitors in a losing locker room is brutal. And yet there I was fighting the good fight after North Carolina's 85-82 loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament on Sunday. As good as an easy "W" might have felt, how they lost will make them better. The Tar Heels were feisty. They fought. They got down. They clawed back. They got hit in the mouth. They got up. They were beaten 10 times, and they damn near won anyway. This Carolina team still earned a No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, so watch out. Absolutely, this loss was good. "Uh . . ., " Tar Heels guard Kendall Marshall said, trying to find a polite way to call my "good loss" theory crazy. "I don't think any loss is a good loss. I think you can learn just as much from winning as you can from losing," he continued. "But I was proud of my team, how we fought back. We could have caved in and said, 'Well, we're still going to get a No. 1 or 2 seed in the tournament. It doesn't really matter.' But it did matter, and the way we competed was big for us." North Carolina always was going to lose this game. For starters, Florida State is good, the kind of good that makes them dangerous in the NCAA tournament. They play defense, are nasty on the glass and can shoot. And when a good team shoots better than 60 percent, which the Seminoles did for most of the game, it is almost impossible to beat them. They hit 11 of their 22 3-pointers. And then there was North Carolina, without John Henson because of a wrist injury and trailing by 16 in the first half. The whole thing looked to be charging toward a repeat of the 33-point loss to Florida State earlier this season. "That was kind of embarrassing to be down 16 in the first half," UNC center Tyler Zeller said. "We knew we could either give up and go back to 33 or we could make a run." So ugly had circumstances become for North Carolina that coach Roy Williams slammed his hand onto his chair and unleashed on everybody in the ensuing timeout. It was merely a warm up for his halftime show when he unleashed a version of the "stay in the locker room or go and fight" speech. It apparently was pretty salty. It is hard to imagine a fiery, verbal butt kicking delivered in Williams' laid-back Carolina drawl unless you have heard him. And even then Williams and his unfailingly nice and friendly demeanor make it impossible to imagine him too, too mad. 'He is. He is. He is very nice," Marshall said. "Without a doubt, coach puts on a smile for y'all but . . . his on-court demeanor is very different. He expects nothing less than the best, and he is going to go after you until he gets." Williams is very much like his 2012 team in that regard. When properly provoked, UNC can be one of best teams in country, maybe the best. Proper provocation is required, though. Tar Heel after Tar Heel talked about "when they do bring it" or "when we play for full 40" and other variations of the same theme Sunday. It is here the toughness criticism gains legs? So did y'all have a toughness question to answer? "Depends on who you ask," Marshall said. "People, they may say we are not tough. They throw a bunch of different titles out there." The team has been pounded at times this season for not being untouchable like many predicted. It was supposed to cruise without many bumps to another Final Four. That has not happened. Along the way, Zeller has faced "soft" accusations, disproved them and now faces them again after what went on down low Sunday. There are questions about whether Harrison Barnes and this North Carolina team as a whole have lived up to expectations? Are they great? Can they be? Not only can they be, they were. They were great in those final 12 minutes. They were tough. They were relentless. They fought. They overcame another day of questionable officiating. (A quick sidebar on the officiating: I get the argument that college basketball does not want officials to decide games. But for the second consecutive game, the officials just flat-out ignored hard outcome-changing fouls underneath the bucket. This cannot happen.) Back to the Tar Heels: they hit huge shots. They responded well to pressure. And yes, they lost. In the loss, though, they reminded themselves what they can be. "The last 12 minutes it was the North Carolina team that I have seen recently," Williams said afterward, "and it is the North Carolina team that I like and we want to be." Said Marshall: "We know what type of team we are. When we do bring it, and when we do play with a chip on our shoulder, I feel like we are one of the best teams in the country." So it was a good loss Sunday. Marshall will see that if the final 12 minutes team shows up in the NCAA Tournament. So will everybody else.
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