North Carolina’s players sat on the bench, looking solemn as Texas A&M added to its double-digit lead.
With 1:29 remaining, Tar Heel legends Joel Berry II, Luke Maye and Theo Pinson received a round of applause from what amounted to a hometown crowd as they walked to the sideline for the final time Sunday evening.
North Carolina’s national championship defense ended in stunning fashion in Charlotte, N.C.
Seventh-seeded Texas A&M took control midway through the first half, using its large post players to dominate in an 86-65 win over the No. 2-seed Tar Heels in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Berry struggled with his outside shooting, Maye got into early foul trouble and North Carolina (26-11) appeared shocked as it trailed by 24 points in the second half.
Despite suffering a three-game losing streak during their ACC schedule, the Tar Heels turned things around and entered the NCAA Tournament as a national championship contender. Their hopes of celebrating another title improved after top-seeded Virginia was upset and several other national powers fell this weekend.
However, Texas A&M (22-12) never let up to earn a trip to the Sweet 16, where it will face No. 3 Michigan on Thursday in Los Angeles.
Berry led North Carolina with 21 points in his final collegiate game.
North Carolina was creating some distance from Texas A&M.
Forward Sterling Manley hit a jumper as part of a 6-0 run that gave the Tar Heels a 20-13 lead with 11:37 remaining in the first half. But the Aggies responded with an even bigger run, one large enough to change the momentum for good.
Texas A&M forced turnovers, got second-chance points and played shutdown defense to score the next 15 points. Aggies junior forward Tyler Davis used his 6-foot-10, 266-pound frame to dominate in the paint, helping the Aggies erase a 7-point deficit and build a 28-20 lead.
There wasn’t much the Tar Heels could do right as they went more than 7 minutes without making a basket. They couldn’t grab rebounds, make shots or do the small things that allowed them to get off to a fast start.
Berry hit a pair of free throws to finally snap Texas A&M’s 15-0 run. Maye then made a layup with 4:04 left in the first half to give UNC its first basket since Manley’s jumper, but a lot had changed during that stretch.
The Aggies were playing with more confidence and took a 42-28 lead into halftime.
Size in the paint
North Carolina is accustomed to outrebounding its opponents, and Maye has established himself as a tenacious post player.
However, with Maye battling foul trouble, Davis had no trouble grabbing offensive rebounds, scoring around the rim and being a force in the paint.
Davis scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half to go along with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. He gave the Aggies an immediate boost, firing them up as he hollered after making big plays in the paint.
North Carolina struggled to contain Davis, who made 7 of 9 shots and helped Texas A&M overpower the Tar Heels in the paint. The Aggies won the rebounding margin, 50-36, and they held Maye to 13 points and 11 rebounds on 6-for-16 shooting.
North Carolina has relied on its outside shooting to provide another dimension to its offense.
However, Berry and fellow guards Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson were unable to drain 3-pointers like they usually do. With their outside shooting not falling, the Tar Heels watched as their offense stalled.
North Carolina missed 12 of its 13 3-point attempts in the first half (7.7 percent), with Williams making the lone shot from beyond the arc. Berry, Johnson and Pinson combined to miss all 10 of their 3-point attempts.
The Tar Heels never found their shooting touch, finishing 6 of 31 on their 3-point attempts (19.4 percent).