Poor Rex Walters.
Rex isn’t used to this. Not after a stellar college career that included Big-8 Championships, a Final Four, and individual accolades. Not after being a 1st round NBA Draft pick and completing a nine-year professional career.
Rex Walters is a competitor. So much so that Roy Williams categorized Walters as one of the 3 fiercest competitors he’s ever coached, along with two of the Carolina family’s favorite sons – Michael Jordan and Raymond Felton.
And so it had to feel so strangely uncomfortable Walters to be sharing a sideline with Williams and losing by 47 points.
Yet that was the reality for rookie head coach Rex Walters and his Florida Atlantic Owls. They came to the Dean E. Smith center on December 19, 2006 and ran into an aggressive and well-oiled Tar Heel machine. The Tar Heels were running on all cylinders last night, showing every bit of the fine tuning that no doubt has taken place during the recently completed exam period.
The result was an absolutely comprehensive victory for Carolina that showed, at least for one night, just how great this Tar Heel team may end up being.
The game was over almost before it started. Carolina stretched a 4-3 lead with a 30-2 run, and eventually led at halftime by a Smith Center record 47 points. During the first half demolition, every Tar Heel strength was shown off in almost hyperbolic fashion. Hansbrough seemed stronger, Wright longer, and Lawson faster than ever before. Carolina scored seemingly at will, using an impressive array of layups, dunks, and wide open jump shots.
But perhaps the most encouraging characteristic of the first stanza was UNC’s stifling defense. For a team with such immense physical talents, Carolina has struggled mightily at times in stopping the opposition. Yet in the first half against the Owls, Carolina played the kind of in-your-face D that could make even ol’ Roy smile.
The Heels forced 15 turnovers and held FAU to 24% shooting from the field in the first half, and along the way showcased the ability to tip, deflect, or at least obstruct almost every pass that Rex Walter’s team attempted to make. As a result, Florida Atlantic began to throw the ball all over the court and the Carolina unearthed a valuable secret: playing good defense can be pretty fun – especially when it leads to high-flying dunks and fast break points.
Alas, there was nothing that Coach Walters could do to stop the bleeding. He did the right things, calling timeouts and trying to teach his team in spite of the scoreboard. To his credit, Walters didn’t stomp and scream or show a hint of disappointment – he’s been taught far better than that.
On a night when his team was completely outclassed, Rex Walters showed that he’s not just a fierce competitor or proven winner. He’s also a man who’s learned to see the big picture and understands how to accept defeat with dignity and class.
And that, more than a 50 point win, will surely make Coach Williams very proud.