This was just another story that undoubtedly will add to the lore of Coach Dean Smith and his North Carolina Tar Heels.
Trailing by 13 points with less than 12 minutes to play here in the delirious Omni, top-ranked North Carolina patiently worked its way back, tied the game with 54 seconds left in regulation on a basket by Brad Daugherty, then won it in overtime, 78-77, over No. 2 Georgia Tech.
"We've come back so many times before," North Carolina guard Steve Hale said, "and when you have a history of doing it, you have confidence. You just have that feeling you can do it again."
Georgia Tech's Mark Price could have tied the game with 14 seconds left in overtime after making a steal, but he missed the second of two foul shots, leaving the Yellow Jackets behind, 76-75.
North Carolina's Joe Wolf, who grabbed his 13th rebound on the Price miss, made two free throws with 11 seconds left to clinch it for the Tar Heels, who allowed Georgia Tech a meaningless final basket before time ran out.
Price made only six of 21 shots and committed four turnovers, including a bad bounce pass to Tom Hammonds in overtime that allowed North Carolina's Kenny Smith to race in with the stolen ball for a layup and put the Tar Heels ahead, 74-70.
Price, unquestionably one of the best all-around guards in the nation, took the loss personally. Even though it hadn't been one of his better games, it looked as if he could become the hero when he stepped in front of Kenny Smith and punched away Jeff Lebo's inbounds pass with Georgia Tech trailing, 76-74, in the final minute of overtime.
Price outraced Smith 30 feet toward the baseline, grabbed the ball while being hit by Smith, and put in a short bank shot that the officials disallowed. Smith's foul, they said, came before the shot.
"Sure, I thought the shot should have counted," Price said, "but obviously, you're asking the wrong person. But that shouldn't matter anyway. I should have made the free throws. I just didn't come through."
The dramatic ending, played out before a capacity crowd of 16,659, will obscure many of tonight's outstanding personal achievements, such as Daugherty's 22 points and nine rebounds for North Carolina; Bruce Dalrymple's 12 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and no turnovers for Georgia Tech; and Hammonds' 16 points and eight rebounds for the Yellow Jackets.
Although neither team shot well -- North Carolina 45 percent, Georgia Tech 43 -- both played as hard as anyone could ask. Each committed only three turnovers the final 25 minutes.
But the story tonight, as it has been so many times in past important games, was North Carolina (23-1 overall, 7-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) making a remarkable comeback. This ranks with some of its best in recent years, and it was too bad such a performance had to come on a Tuesday night on only selected television outlets.
Georgia Tech (17-3, 6-2), which lost to North Carolina, 85-77, 10 days ago, was in the process of destroying the rap that it won't be able to completely overcome having only seven real players.
Even with Price and 6-foot-11 senior center John Salley in foul trouble -- both eventually fouled out -- the Yellow Jackets ran up a 40-26 lead in the first half, and a 59-36 lead with 12 minutes to play in the second half.
Craig Neal and Antoine Ford -- the only substitutes for Georgia Tech -- filled in well when needed. And it took the Tar Heels 30 minutes to get more than Daugherty and Hale (16 points, four rebounds, three steals) involved in the game.
That's why Georgia Tech's 13-point lead seemed insurmountable. But Tar Heels history and the Yellow Jackets' fatigue combined to create a mind-blowing ending.
The Georgia Tech players appeared dog tired in overtime. Price was drooping when his bounce pass was stolen; one of his shots barely reached the rim before Duane Ferrell tipped it back in to pull the Yellow Jackets within 74-72.
But fatigue showed again when Hammonds grabbed a rebound after Kenny Smith's missed shot but let the ball roll out of bounds, giving North Carolina another chance to score, which it did on a pair of free throws by Wolf to make it 76-72 with 46 seconds left.
Price said he wasn't thinking about being tired and offered up his hustling steal as proof. But Ferrell saw it differently.
"I'm tired, even now," he said nearly 30 minutes after the game ended. "We have to try to save ourselves (because they only have seven people who play). You know Carlina is going to make a run at you. They kept shuttling guys back and forth, and they were able to protect the guys who had gotten in foul trouble. It became tiresome."
Even if Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins had had fresh troops -- and it looks like he had better develop some before March -- North Carolina was feeling confident after Dean Smith held a little skull session during a timeout with 11:56 to play and the Tar Heels down 13.
"I know this sounds strange," North Carolina's Warren Martin said, "but he told us to 'be patient on offense and play good defense.' We've done it so many times, time and time again. More, I think, than other teams.
"We just wanted to get Brad on the jump hook, Wolf on the low block, Lebo and Hale the open jumpers."
It looked as easy as Martin made it sound. The Tar Heels scored nine points in their next four trips down the floor. The big play was Hale's offensive rebound basket and foul shot that got North Carolina within 59-53.
Georgia Tech, meanwhile, had to be frustrated by Price and Dalrymple -- both better than 50 percent shooters -- shooting a combined 11 for 36 from the field. Kenny Smith did yeoman's defensive work on Price.
The comeback was on. "When you say you're gonna come back, but you never have, it's tough," Hale said. "It doesn't do much good to talk patience and good defense and get all fired up and never do it. But we have.
"Coach Smith kept reminding us there was so much time left. And there was. It was an eternity."
After Hale's three-point play with 10:16 left to play, Smith stole the ball from Hammonds and went in for the layup that made it 59-55.
Georgia Tech got the lead back to six a couple of times on baskets by Price and Ferrell. But a pair of Lebo jumpers, sandwiched around a miss by Hammonds, made it a two-point game, 65-63, with 4:55 left. Still an eternity.
Even when North Carolina was down five, 69-64, following a pair of missed free throws by Lebo, the Tar Heels held their poise, "and we lost ours a little bit," Price said.
One of the great thinking plays came with 1:14 left, the Tar Heels down by 69-68. Dean Smith ordered his team to foul Ford, a 67 percent foul shooter. And Ford missed one of two shots to leave North Carolina within a single basket instead of three points.
So Price wasn't the only Yellow Jacket to miss a free throw, and his teammates weren't about to let him leave the dressing room feeling badly. "Hey, if it wasn't for him making the steal he wouldn't have even been at the foul line," Ferrell said. "We're not going to let him point the finger at himself."
Even Cremins appeared to feel reasonably good after this one. "Mark's made so many shots, so many free throws, I could really care less about that one," he said.
"I can't think of anything negative in a situation like this. This was a great basketball game and this is positive. I'm not going to lose any sleep over this loss." Texas-El Paso 64, Oregon State 49
Center Dave Feitl made 12 of 15 field goal attempts and scored 24 points as 17th-ranked Texas El-Paso came from behind in the second half to win in Corvallis, Ore.
Oregon State (9-9) led by 30-26 at halftime and by 40-35 after Jose Ortiz scored an inside basket with 13:53 to play. UTEP (19-3) outscored the Beavers, 19-5, over the next 8:13 to take control for good. LSU 63, Auburn 61
John Williams scored 28 points, including a layup with 11 seconds remaining that broke a tie, as LSU won the Southeastern Conference game in Auburn, Ala.
The contest, postponed from Jan. 25 because several LSU players, including Williams, contracted chicken pox, ended a four-game losing streak for LSU (17-6 overall, 5-5 SEC).
It was the second loss in a row for Auburn (12-8, 6-4)