Tar Heels' Stumbles Are Hard to Explain

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 26, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 25 -- Given the history of his teams' penchant for suffering surprising losses, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams might be used to attempting to explain the inexplicable.

But even Williams could only muster feeble reasons for the Tar Heels' dramatic collapse in the second half and overtime of their 96-84 loss to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament's East Region final at Continental Airlines Arena.

The Tar Heels missed 23 of their final 25 field goal attempts, took some ill-advised and perhaps rushed three-pointers that Georgetown rebounded and quickly turned into points, and seemed frustrated by Georgetown's defense after passing through it like it was a sieve in the first half.

"We just didn't make enough shots down the stretch," Williams said.

North Carolina, which entered the game shooting over 50 percent from the field this season and had four players averaging in double figures (and a fifth at 9.7 points per game), played exactly to form in the first half. Behind stars Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright, as well as reserves Reyshawn Terry and Deon Thompson, the Tar Heels staked themselves to a 50-44 halftime lead, and an 11-point margin midway through the second half.

So how could a team that shot 59 percent in the first half, that scored more points in a half than any other Georgetown opponent this season, that was supposed to have an edge on Georgetown because of a broader variety of scoring options, go so cold at the worst possible time?

After Ty Lawson sliced through the lane for a layup with 12 minutes 20 seconds left to give North Carolina its biggest lead of the game, 69-58, the Tar Heels made just two field goals the rest of the half -- a tip by Thompson at the midway point, and Hansbrough's layup with 1:42 left.

Nevertheless, North Carolina still held a 75-65 lead when Georgetown's Jeff Green went to the free throw line with 6:02 left. His 1-for-2 showing started a 7-0 Hoyas run that made the game nip and tuck the rest of the way.

Then, after Wright and Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace each hit two free throws to make the score 77-74 with 3:15 left, Terry took the shot that might have changed the complexion of the finale -- a three-pointer with 20 seconds left on the shot clock.

"We came down, we had a wide-open three," Williams said, "and I didn't want it to go down because it was so early in the shot clock."

Over the next 8:32, North Carolina managed just four free throws. They missed four three-pointers and didn't get offensive rebounds on any of them.

"It was a combination of a lot of things," Wright said. "They played really well on defense, but we missed a lot of easy shots."

Said Williams: "I was not ecstatic with a couple of those shots. Even though it was wide open, it was so early in the shot clock and I wanted to get the ball inside because they had some [foul] trouble."

By the time they did, it was too late. Georgetown began overtime with too much momentum, and Carolina never recovered. The Tar Heels missed their first three shots of overtime. When Georgetown rebounded and scored after each one to take a six-point lead, North Carolina was forced to play catch-up from behind the arc. They missed seven straight three-pointers.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company