CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. - Roy Williams said he was hoping for a springboard. Instead, he got another trap door.
His North Carolina team's last chance of finishing .500 in ACC play would have been to win its final five games, starting with a victory at Boston College. Instead, the Tar Heels fell 71-67 to an Eagles team that had lost four of its last five.
"I thought we were going to win today and get on a great run and get into the NCAA Tournament," Williams said. "But we didn't get the first step done. Both teams needed a win today. Boston College got it and we didn't."
The Tar Heels (14-13, 3-9 in the ACC), who are now assured of their first losing season in conference play since 2002-03, certainly had their chances.
Carolina led for most of the first half and jumped out to a seven-point lead in the opening minutes of the second.
At that point-with UNC on a 10-2 run out of the locker room-it was the Eagles who looked frustrated.
"How we played the first five minutes of the second half is how we need to play the whole game," John Henson said.
But instead of keeping the pressure on Boston College, the Heels watched yet another opponent take over a game with a big run.
The Eagles (13-13, 4-8) outscored UNC 24-7 over a 10-minute span to put Carolina in a 10-point hole.
"We lost our poise," Williams said. "We lost our composure a little bit."
UNC rallied to within two points on a 3-point play by point guard Larry Drew II with 1:38 to go but couldn't get any more defensive stops to have a chance to win.
"I came in thinking we were going to handle this game," Drew said. "I wanted this game as bad as (Williams) did. But if we wanted it we would have got out there and took it. We had multiple opportunities."
The Tar Heels-who were led by Deon Thompson's 17 points-shot 39 percent, including a 1-for-8 clip from outside the 3-point arc.
They missed eight free throws in the game and even got beaten on the boards by the smaller Eagles despite the return of 7-foot center Tyler Zeller who had nine points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes after missing the past 10 games.
"It felt good," Zeller said of his return to the lineup. "I was a little slow, a little out of sync."
About the only positive on offense was that UNC showed flashes of transition offense that's been missing for months, scoring eight fast-break points in the first half.
But even that wasn't much consolation since the best of those came after scores by Boston College.
"You can't just trade baskets," Drew said. "One team's going to have to take over at some point. It just seems like it's never us."
It was no wonder that the Tar Heels didn't sound all that shocked that it wasn't them once again despite their high hopes for a late-season surge.
"I really felt like we were excited about winning out and getting to a point where they'd have to make some tough decisions about our season," senior Marcus Ginyard said.
But instead of the pressure being on the NCAA Tournament selection committee, it's right back on the Tar Heels, who will need to muster the motivation to finish strong now that winning the ACC Tournament is their only hope for the big dance.
"We've got to find the pride to finish out the year," Ginyard said. "If we don't find that, it's going to continue to be ugly."