Digger Phelps stared at the TV screen in front of him as if transfixed.
"Run it again," he said. The room was silent as the tape wound back and then forward through the play Phelps and Notre Dame will dream about all summer.
"Again," Phelps said. "Run it again." His season had ended 20 minutes earlier this afternoon in the Southeast Regional, in the second round of the NCAA tournament, with a bitter 60-58 loss to North Carolina, and Phelps wasn't leaving until he was absolutely certain about what had happened on the play that cost him the upset.
Over and over, he watched the play unfold.
It began after Notre Dame (21-9) had run the clock down from 1:38 with the score tied at 58, trying to hold for the final shot. With 15 seconds left, the Irish went from their spread to their regular offense. Phelps didn't want to call time out.
"We didn't want to give them a chance to set up," he said. "We didn't want to take a chance on a five-second call or something. We've gone with David all season, we were going with him today."
And so, it was time for freshman point guard David Rivers (17 points) to work his magic one more time. Rivers, who had controlled the ball most of the time while the Irish were killing the clock, took the ball near center court. North Carolina was in its "scramble" defense.
"We wanted to double-team Rivers and make him give it up," Coach Dean Smith said. "We wanted to make someone else beat us."
As Rivers veered to his left, 6-foot-10 Joe Wolf jumped out to double-team him. Rivers got around Wolf but, as he looked up to see Curtis Hunter coming to trap him, he dribbled the ball off Wolf's leg and right into the hands of Hunter.
"Wolf came up to trap and I thought I was by him," Rivers said. "But then someone deflected it and I lost control."
As soon as he did, Kenny Smith, now a step behind the play, took off. Hunter grabbed the ball and heard his teammate screaming, "Curtis !"
"I was surprised when I looked up and saw him that open," Hunter said. "I just took a dribble and threw it to him." Smith easily took the ball in and dunked with four seconds left.
The Tar Heels began celebrating even though Notre Dame called time out with three seconds left. "I saw everyone celebrating and I got worried," said Buzz Peterson, who played 36 minutes in place of Steve Hale, out with a separated right shoulder he suffered in the opening round. "I thought there was plenty of time to still do something."
So did Phelps. Most people here at Nore Dame's home court, the Athletic and Convocation Center, expected the Irish to try to throw the ball to midcourt and call a timeout. Instead, Phelps used Rivers as a midcourt decoy and told Tim Kempton to throw a long pass. But it was short and Kenny Smith intercepted the ball, throwing it skyward as time ran out.
"I thought sure they were going to Rivers," Peterson said. "I wanted to make him go back to get the ball but then I saw them throwing it long. I was surprised."
It was the final surprise in a taut game full of twists until the final one that sent the Tar Heels (26-8) to the regional in Birmingham on Friday, making them the nation's only team to reach the round of 16 the last five seasons. They will play Auburn, a 66-64 winner over Kansas here today.
The Tigers (23-11) continued the career of already resigned Coach Sonny Smith for at least one more game, getting 23 points from Frank Ford (nine-for- nine shooting) and 21 from Chuck Person. They also held Danny Manning of Kansas (26-8), in foul trouble all day, to three-for-12 shooting and seven points.
The Irish and Tar Heels played even for 25 minutes, North Carolina working the ball inside to center Brad Daugherty (18 points, 12 rebounds) while Rivers led the Irish. But Notre Dame began slipping behind in the second half, largely by missing seven of eight free throws during the first 13 minutes.
North Carolina built a 56-50 lead on a 15-footer by Kenny Smith with 7:18 left. Then, the Irish drew even at 56 on Donald Royal's two foul shots with 4:43 left.
After Daugherty's two free throws made it 58-56 with 4:19 left, the mistakes began: Royal walked; Smith threw a bad pass; Joseph Price threw a brick; Warren Martin walked; Price missed again; Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one.
It was still 58-56 with 2:15 left. Finally, Rivers got a pick from Kempton, drove left and hit a short bank shot to tie it at 58 with 1:57 to play.
"It was David's show today," said Notre Dame's Jim Dolan.
After Rivers' basket, North Carolina went to a four-corners offense. Smith got in trouble on a double-team and threw the ball away to Royal, who was fouled by Martin with 1:38 left.
Royal was so nervous on the foul line he double-pumped. He missed but Dolan rebounded, and the final sequence began.
Phelps watched the tape one last time and walked back into his office. "Down six and we could have stolen it," he said. "But, it's all over."
He sat down at his desk, put up his feet and turned up the stereo. The song playing was, "One More Night."
But not this season.