Lou Campanelli wanted to talk about how well his James Madison team had played today in defeat. He wanted to talk about how proud he was that a school playing in Division II six years ago could come within two points of beating top-ranked North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.
But for about 15 seconds, Campanelli couldn't say anything. The tears welling in his eyes wouldn't let him.
Campanelli was emotional because his Dukes had just lost to North Carolina, 52-50, before a packed house at the Charlotte Coliseum. Madison led much of the first half and was within one point in the last minute.
But a three-point play by all-America James Worthy with 57 seconds remaining, and two more free throws by Worthy with 34 seconds left enabled the Tar Heels to eliminate Madison in a second-round match of the East Regional.
Wake Forest lost to Memphis State in the second game of today's doubleheader, 56-55, when guard Danny Young missed a 35-footer at the buzzer.
North Carolina (28-2), the top-seeded team in this regional, and Memphis State (24-4), seeded second, will now travel to Raleigh for more regional action starting Friday night. North Carolina will play the winner of Sunday's Alabama-St. John's game. Memphis State will face the winner of Sunday's Northeastern-Villanova game.
While the Memphis State fans celebrated in the aisles of the coliseum, the James Madison team was boarding a bus for a long and probably quiet trip back to Harrisonburg, Va.
"I'm disappointed and crushed and very emotional right now," said Campanelli, finally composing himself. "It hurts that we played so well, but came away two points short.
"We actually believed we could come in here and beat North Carolina today," Campanelli continued. "We played them pretty dead even for 40 minutes. I am delighted that the whole country got to see our team play so well. We shouldn't be this good after six years of Division I, but we are. I think we belong somewhere in the top 20. I think everybody should take their hats off to James Madison."
Were it not for Worthy's three-point play in the last minute, the Dukes (24-6) would have had one more realistic shot at the biggest upset of the year.
After trailing by as many as seven points in the second half, Madison pulled to within 47-46 on forward Keith Bradley's inside basket with 1:37 to play.
The Tar Heels then went into their delay game. Bradley, with help from the Dukes' 2-3 zone defense, had not allowed Worthy to score the entire second half. But Bradley lost track of Worthy for a half-second, and the 6-foot-9 Tar Heel cut to the basket. Guard Jimmy Black made a good lob pass, and Worthy scored while being fouled by Madison center Dan Ruland.
"That back-door play is on Page 42 of the basketball book," quipped North Carolina Coach Dean Smith.
Worthy's play put Carolina ahead, 50-46, and in command. There were a few anxious moments in the last 40 seconds, as Carolina committed one turnover, one unintentional-intentional foul and missed consecutive bonus free-throw sets.
But Worthy's three-point play clearly was the critical one.
"I thought the foul against Ruland was a good call by the official," said Campanelli, immediately dismissing any notion that Worthy might have committed a charging foul.
"I got there a little bit late," said Ruland. "But I don't usually take charges, so it was a little new to me. I guess it was a good call."
One call that Campanelli was not happy about came on the following play, when guard Charles Fisher was called for charging into Worthy while driving for the basket. "That," said Campanelli, "was not a good call."
The Dukes shot 57 percent, and got 12 points each from Ruland, Fisher and forward Linton Townes, who closed the scoring with a bank shot at the buzzer.
"We knew we were so close, so close," said Townes. "We just needed one thing to go our way. But it didn't happen.
"I think we have a lot to be proud of," said Townes, the only senior on this team. "We came in here relatively unheard of and played the No. 1 team in the country down to the last minute."
Madison's failure to score once its defense had pressured North Carolina into turnovers seriously hurt the Dukes.
"They didn't catch us flat," Smith said. "What you saw was one of the best basketball teams in the nation."
In the second game, the 11,666 fans saw one of the best freshmen in the nation--Memphis State's Keith Lee. The slender, 6-10 forward scored 18 points, including the last nine for his team.
"His defense was as outstanding as his offense," said Wake forward Guy Morgan, who scored 13 points. The loss was especially tough for the Deacons (21-9) because they shot 60 percent from the field.
The Tigers proved they could qualify for play in the Atlantic Coast Conference by delaying the last five minutes after it was evident that Wake's shooting would not cool off.