EDITOR’S NOTE: Sporting Information went behind the scenes in Spartanburg, S.C., to supply a glimpse at what Wofford’s dwelling sport in opposition to UNC meant for the college.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — The standing-room-only crowd has reached a fever pitch, with tipoff of the season-opening basketball sport between No. eight North Carolina and Wofford a scant 13 minutes away. The infant-blue clad Tar Heels followers have traveled nicely, however they’re drowned out by the Wofford trustworthy contained in the college’s state-of-the-art second-year facility. 

The Terriers’ new dwelling can’t match the Dean Smith Middle in Chapel Hill in dimension or scope. However inside the three,400-seat Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, the ambiance, pleasure, anticipation — and delight — is each bit the Dean Dome’s equal. 

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On this second, although, the Wofford gamers can’t hear any of their rabid supporters from the intimacy of their locker room. Coach Mike Younger has the ground, and he has their consideration. Younger runs down, for the hundredth time, the important thing factors of the sport plan, and finishes by tapping emphatically on the whiteboard by performs he needs recent of their minds. 

“Facet out-of-bounds,” Younger barks. “Daffodil. Elon. Windfall. Good?”

He stops, and his expression softens. 

“Go searching,” he says, making eye contact throughout the room. “This can be a nice night time — for you, for our group, this program, this school. Class. Play with class.” 

His phrases decide up depth and tempo.

“This one will not be for the timid,” he says. “By no means is. Not this sport. Not the sport of basketball. Go battle, fellas. All proper? Go battle! Let’s go. Whaddya say?”

The gamers spring out of their chairs, and the noise contained in the locker room briefly matches the decibel stage in the remainder of the world. 

♦♦♦

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Carolina’s group huddles earlier than tipoff in opposition to Wofford whereas coach Roy Williams seems to be on (Ryan Fagan/Sporting Information).

This sport, this occasion within the city of Spartanburg, is as a lot concerning the circumstances as the tip end result. 

Wofford, with an enrollment of 1,650 college students, is likely one of the premier applications within the Southern Convention, with 4 NCAA Event bids out of a one-bid league since 2010. North Carolina (enrollment 18,814) is faculty basketball royalty, although, an ACC heavyweight that often competes for — and wins — nationwide championships.

Applications like UNC aren’t obligated to play street video games in opposition to groups in leagues just like the SoCon, in order that they don’t. To that time: The Tar Heels are the one power-conference group within the AP preseason High 25 ballot to schedule even a single street sport in opposition to a low/mid-major program — and so they’re doing it twice this 12 months. After Wofford, the Heels’ subsequent sport is at Colonial Athletic Affiliation group Elon on Friday.

However these video games matter. North Carolina at Wofford is a day the smaller-school gamers, the college and even the group by no means forgets.

“It’s a dream come true, man,” senior Cam Jackson instructed me after observe in mid-October. “Having my dream lived out at Wofford, and having a group like North Carolina — blue bloods — coming to Spartanburg is simply greater than I ever thought would occur whereas I used to be in class. I all the time wished to play the large colleges and knock ’em off, that was the objective. However having them come to us — like Georgia Tech did final 12 months, South Carolina did final 12 months — it’s greater than you count on, coming to a small college like this. It’s actually a blessing to have the chance to play a group like this in entrance of our dwelling crowd.”

♦♦♦

It’s a bit after 11 a.m. on sport day. The Wofford gamers arrive early for the morning shootaround, to no person’s shock. Punctuality — all the time, consideration to element — is the Wofford method. 

Additionally, y’know, it’s UNC day.

“It’s sort of taken on a lifetime of its personal round right here,” Will Murphy, a first-year assistant coach who was promoted from director of basketball operations in October, says with a wry smile earlier than the work formally begins.

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Younger walks onto the court docket, dressed just like the tipoff is eight minutes away, not eight hours down the street. The one factor Younger’s to-the-nines jacket-and-slacks ensemble is lacking is a tie, and trusted assistant Kevin Giltner admits with a smile that he feels a bit underdressed in a Wofford T-shirt, shorts and basketball sneakers. 

The top coach is prepared for this sport, however for now he’ll need to accept working his group by an in depth however not exhausting mid-morning exercise. First, a group circle — everybody in this system, from the coaches to the fifth-year seniors to the freshmen to the group managers — across the big Wofford “W” in the course of the court docket for a chat.

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Wofford coach Mike Younger addresses his group the morning earlier than the in opposition to UNC (Ryan Fagan/Sporting Information).

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As observe begins, Jay McAuley, the affiliate head coach, takes the group by units Carolina likes to run. The scout group is imitating UNC, at the least till McAuley stops it with a “Freeze!” for a instructing second. 

“What do they need greater than any a part of the ground?” he asks his squad. 

A number of gamers shout the reply: “Paint!” 

“Paint, that’s proper. The slips, the ball display, the movement. They feed the put up. Do what we do, and don’t deviate from it. Maintain them out of the paint.”

This process might be simpler mentioned than performed. North Carolina is basically, actually good, and Luke Maye isn’t the one Tar Heel who likes to work inside. The Heels have a determined dimension benefit.

LaPhonso Ellis is the colour man for the night’s ESPN2 broadcast. He’s watching the shootaround with play-by-play associate Wealthy Hollenberg. He’s most likely as excited for this contest as anybody who didn’t graduate from Wofford or will not be dwelling in Spartanburg. 

“The low/mid-major colleges all the time go to the excessive majors to play, so the native followers don’t get the chance to truly go and take it in,” Ellis says. “So for North Carolina and the opposite main applications who’ve been keen to go in another person’s yard, I believe is fairly particular. And it says lots about Roy Williams, too.”

Williams, as his mentor Dean Smith earlier than him, understands the worth of journeys like this, for his program and for the campuses the place the Tar Heels play. 

Generally, going again to his days because the Kansas head coach, Williams schedules video games close to the house cities of his gamers; suppose again to the sport at Evansville for Tyler Zeller in 2011. Generally, it’s for private causes: Williams is from Asheville, N.C., and in 2011 Carolina helped UNC-Asheville open its new area. 

The genesis of this sport goes again many, a few years. When Younger was a child (he’s 55 now), he attended the Dean Smith Carolina Basketball Camp in Chapel Hill.

“Michael Younger was in my camp after I was a highschool coach working for Coach Smith, and he received again in my fitness center after I got here again and labored as an assistant,” Williams says. “So I’ve recognized him since he was 13 or 14 years previous.”

This specific matchup was facilitated by Eddie Fogler, a UNC alum who was a long-time faculty hoops coach himself. Fogler known as Younger to ask whether or not he’d be excited about a two-for-one home-and-home sequence with the Tar Heels. After all, Younger was . Quickly after, the deal was performed. 

Extra big-time faculty coaches ought to comply with Williams’ lead.

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♦♦♦

It’s a bit after 12:30 p.m. Fletcher Magee — Wofford’s senior scoring star — and Ryan Larson — a freshman from Minnesota — are the final two gamers nonetheless taking pictures earlier than the Tar Heels get the fitness center ground. For the coaches, it’s time for lunch.

Younger climbs into his automotive, together with McAuley and Murphy. Pearl Jam’s SIRIUS station, Channel 22, is on the radio. “I’m betting Ryan’s a Pearl Jam man,” Younger says to his assistants. He’s not unsuitable.

A stay model of “All Alongside the Watchtower” is taking part in, with Neil Younger on stage, too. The top coach turns up the amount and sings alongside. The drive to lunch, in Burwell Eating Corridor on campus, isn’t lengthy sufficient, so we’ve to depart the automobile earlier than the track ends. 

Greg O’Dell, the most effective gamers in Wofford historical past, is becoming a member of the group for lunch. Younger raves about O’Dell as a participant, and who O’Dell is now as an individual. He’s nonetheless third on Wofford’s all-time scoring charts in class historical past, at 2,208 factors. Enjoyable truth: O’Dell, who drove in from Washington, D.C., for this sport, was a part of the group that performed in President Barack Obama’s common basketball sport when he was in workplace. 

Because the group walks by Burwell, everybody has phrases of encouragement for Younger and his coaches. Good lucks and glad palms. There’s occasional sarcasm, too.

“Hey, when’s your subsequent sport? I haven’t heard something in any respect about it,” the assistant baseball coaches ask the assistant hoops coaches. 

Spoiler: They’ve heard about it. Everybody’s heard about it.

Younger deliberately left his telephone in his workplace earlier than heading to lunch, partially as a result of it hasn’t given him a second’s silence in, nicely, perpetually. Anybody related to any stage of energy in this system has been besieged with ticket requests, and it’s been nonstop for these on the high of this system’s pyramid. 

Spoiler, Half 2: There aren’t any tickets to be discovered.

“It’s simply the hardest ticket in Wofford sports activities historical past,” Thom Henson, the colour analyst for Wofford basketball and soccer broadcasts for 20 years, tells me throughout shootaround.

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The beauty of this sport, from Wofford’s perspective, is that it has the prospect to host probably the most storied faculty hoops applications within the nation on its still-very-new dwelling court docket. The superb factor about this sport? It’s really a revenge sport. 

For the Tar Heels. 

Final 12 months, the Terriers bussed the 200-some-odd miles largely up Interstate 85 into Chapel Hill and surprised the Tar Heels, who have been ranked No. 5 on the time, in a 79-75 victory. 

“I undoubtedly bear in mind what occurred to us final 12 months,” Williams mentioned after Tuesday’s sport. “They spanked us in our dwelling constructing.”

I requested Magee concerning the distinctive state of affairs a number of weeks in the past after a Wofford observe.

“It’s bizarre to consider,” he mentioned with amusing. “I believe they’ll be extra prepared for us, being the primary sport of the 12 months for them. I’m certain they’ll be extra ready, simply totally able to go.”

The Terriers constructed a large lead final 12 months and needed to maintain off an enormous UNC push down the stretch. Magee had 27 in that one, together with a few enormous 3-pointers late to seal the upset. 

“It was undoubtedly a extremely particular expertise for us. I take into consideration that second we knew it was over, after we have been up 4 with a second left, and we inbounded the ball, I take into consideration that feeling, simply having the ball in my palms,” Magee mentioned. “The entire sport, you don’t actually smile or let it get to you till, , it’s completely over. So when the clock lastly hit zero, that feeling that simply rushed by me was superb.”

♦♦♦

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Wofford college students present up in droves to help the Terriers’ sport vs. UNC (Ryan Fagan/Sporting Information).

It’s a bit after 5:30 p.m., and the world doorways have simply opened. The scholars stream in with essentially the most vigor, led by junior Jonathan Corridor; he was the primary to reach on sport day, 4 hours earlier. The scholar part is first-come, first-serve, and sitting down entrance was necessary to the early arrivers, despite the fact that there isn’t a foul seat within the venue.

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The scene ready for the doorways to open was a lot much less chaotic than a few days in the past, when students lined up to actually get their tickets.

Exterior the world, those that couldn’t finagle tickets however nonetheless wished to be part of this distinctive occasion are tailgating. Henson, who is aware of about these kind of issues, says he can’t ever bear in mind anybody tailgating for a Wofford basketball sport. 

Inside the world, upstairs from the foyer, T-shirts are being handed out totally free. It seems to be as if there are at the least that sufficient shirts stacked on the tables to fill the constructing’s 3,400-person capability. The clothes message, although, isn’t essentially pro-Terriers. On one facet of the shirt, an overview of the state of North Carolina with the group title. On the opposite, an overview of the state of South Carolina, with Wofford’s group title.

Tipoff can’t arrive quickly sufficient. 

♦♦♦

It is a bit after eight p.m., and the primary half has been an train in endurance for the host group. As a gaggle, they made solely 2 of 16 photographs from past the 3-point arc, and their star, Fletcher Magee — who was named to the preseason Jerry West Award watch listing and drilled 43.9 p.c of his 3-point makes an attempt final season — is 0 for four from deep. 

Nonetheless, the Terriers solely path by seven. Hope stays, as the gang reminds them on each possession.

Then, lastly, Magee knocks down his first triple of the sport six minutes into the second half and makes one other on Wofford’s ensuing possession — each with the signature Magee diploma of problem — and in that second, all the things feels completely different.

A Chevez Goodwin bucket inside caps a 12-Three run for the Terriers and knots the sport at 46 all and the gang reaches frenzy standing. Hope feels like actuality for the primary time since UNC raced out to an early double-digit lead within the first half. That is what the capability crowd had been dying to see. Shouts of pleasure change shouts of encouragement all through the world. 

However the Tar Heels are the eighth-ranked group within the nation for a purpose. Cameron Johnson, now a grad scholar at UNC and totally wholesome after offseason hip surgical procedure, splashes dwelling three 3-pointers of his personal over the subsequent jiffy, opening up respiration room the Tar Heels will not relinquish. 

Carolina wins, 78-67, behind 24 factors from preseason first-team All-American Luke Maye, 20 from much-improved sophomore massive man Garrison Brooks and a stellar defensive effort by Kenny Williams, who successfully chased Magee across the court docket for a lot of the night time. 

♦♦♦

It’s a bit after 9:30 p.m., and although the sport’s been over for nearly 45 minutes now, the ground remains to be full of individuals. Gamers from each groups linger, speaking with household and buddies. Generally, the conventional end-of-game traditions simply aren’t sufficient.  

Younger greets a relentless stream of household and followers and alumni, shaking palms and smiling. No one’s prepared for today to finish, not fairly but. 

When he will get a second, he walks over and grins, “Wasn’t this nice? Wasn’t this a fantastic faculty basketball ambiance?”

As was the case earlier within the day, he’s not unsuitable. 

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