GREENSBORO, NC – Hubert Davis has insisted that it’s a long season and that his North Carolina basketball team still had plenty of time to turn things around and build an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume.

Thursday night, his Tar Heels officially ran out of time.

Now all they can do is wait. And hope.

Better yet, they might just want to start preparing themselves for the worst.

They set themselves up for a Selection Sunday disappointment by faltering down the stretch 1 final time in a 68-59 loss to Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.

Whether UNC had to run the table and win the tournament to get in is a moot point now. At 20-13, with only a single Quad 1 victory to its credit, its postseason fate is now in the hands of the selection committee.

As far as graduate wing Leaky Black is concerned, that’s not a very comfortable place for it to be.

“I can only pray at this point,” he said in a somber postgame locker room.

The Tar Heels’ hopes for a miracle will likely rest on the committee’s memory of their surprise run to last year’s national championship game and the weight still carried by the words “North” and “Carolina” on the front of their powder blue jerseys.

More than likely, they’ll have to face a painful reality. And a difficult question.

Do they swallow their pride and accept the consolation prize of a bid to the National Invitation Tournament? 

Or do they simply cut their losses, literally, shut it down and slip quietly into the good night?

Opinions on the subject were mixed in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s elimination.

Davis said he hasn’t begun thinking about it. Pete Nance wasn’t talking about it. Caleb Love said he’d like to keep playing and “try to win something for this team.” Star center Armando Bacot, who was limited to 4 points in just 21 minutes against Virginia while battling a gimpy ankle, isn’t nearly as enthusiastic about the prospect.

“I’m a player,” he said. “If Coach tells us we’re playing, (I’ll play). But it’s not something I want to do.”

That ambivalence should be a tipoff to Davis or whoever else might be involved in making the decision, that there’s no reason for the Tar Heels to prolong the misery of the 2022-23 season.

The only plausible reason for playing in the NIT is if Davis were to use it as an opportunity to give youngsters Seth Trimble, Jalen Washington, D’Marco Dunn and Dontrez Styles some valuable game experience in preparation for next year.

But given Davis’ substitution pattern this season, it’s unlikely he’d go in that direction.

The UNC coach and his players will have a few days to weigh their options. In the meantime, they’ll have plenty of time to try and come up for answers as to what went wrong.

With 4 starters returning from a team that was 1 of the final 2 standing last April, UNC started the season as the nation’s No. 1 ranked team. As it turns out, that success may have had more to do with a well-timed hot streak and some bracket luck than an elite team peaking at the right time.

The 1st signs of trouble came early in the form of a 4-game late-November, early-December losing streak that knocked the Tar Heels out of the polls. Although they eventually showed some sporadic signs of life, they never lasted long.

Clearly something was missing. And they were never able to figure out what it was.

It’s an unsolved mystery that haunted them to the bitter end.

About the best they could come up with is that the weight of expectations was too heavy to bear and the outside noise was too simply too loud to tune out.

“The noise, whether it’s from the phone, the family, the friends, the fans, the agents, the workout guys. I think at times it really hurt us,” Davis said.

“You can nit-pick about a lot of things,” Black said. “But at the end of the day we just didn’t make the plays. It is what it is. We just didn’t win the games we needed to win.”

It’s not like they didn’t have their chances. In 6 of their 13 losses, they led by 6 or more points during the 2nd half.

Although that wasn’t the case Thursday against the Cavaliers, UNC did follow a familiar pattern by faltering down the stretch. They made only 2 of their final 14 field goal attempts, with 1 of them coming on a window-dressing layup by Love with 3 seconds remaining.

By that time, Virginia had outscored the Tar Heels 11-2 to turn a slim 2-point advantage into 1 final dagger.

By the time they retreated to their locker room, reality had already begun to set in.

Their situation is so bleak that Davis even had a hard time coming up with a pitch to try and sell his team to a likely skeptical NCAA selection committee.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Our record is our record.”

Then, after a long pause to think, he uttered what will likely be his underachieving team’s season epitaph come Selection Sunday.

“I know that we played a really tough non-conference schedule. I know that the ACC for whatever reason is undervalued as one of the elite if not the elite conferences in college basketball,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we had chances. We had our chances.”