Top-Seeded Tar Heels Go Cold With The Final Four In Their Grasp


Sunday, March 25th 2007, 9:01 pm
By: News On 6


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Tyler Hansbrough arrived 5-minutes late for the post-game news conference, his eyes red and swollen.

North Carolina's stunning collapse against Georgetown in the NCAA East Regional final Sunday had left the Tar Heels' star in a less than talkative mood.

His mouth appeared to quiver a couple of times and tears welled up in his eyes. There seemed to be a sense of disbelief after Georgetown rallied for a 96-84 overtime victory to advance to the Final Four.

The young and talented Tar Heels believed they could win a national title, but their outstanding season ended because they could not hold a 10-point lead in the final 7-plus minutes of regulation.

What made the situation so unimaginable for coach Roy Williams' team was their high-powered offence scored only three baskets in the final 17 minutes of the game.

"I think everyone can go into a slump no matter how talented you are," said Hansbrough, whose 26 points and 11 rebounds seemed insignificant in defeat. "People can miss shots and that's what happened tonight."

North Carolina (31-7) missed 22 of 23 shots, including its first 12 in overtime, before Ty Lawson made a meaningless 3-pointer with about 7-seconds to play.

The drought was so bad that Hansbrough missed 2-free throws in overtime after making 14 straight in the game.

The Tar Heels missed open 3s. They missed contested shots underneath.

If there was a basketball reason for the misses, it was the Hoyas' decision to switch to a zone defence. That seemed to throw the Tar Heels off their game although they had open shots, especially Wayne Ellington's 3-point attempt at the end of regulation with the score tied at 81.

"I came off a screen and felt pretty open," said Ellington, who was 2-11 from the field. "I thought it was going in. It felt pretty good."

It wasn't, and Hansbrough swung his arm, seemingly in anger, after the miss.

"It's tough, it's tough for us all," Ellington said. "It's also frustrating. We have so much talent and so many guys who can score so well. For us not to be making any shots down the stretch like that, it's tough for us."

The hardest thing for the Tar Heels to believe was they were not going to Atlanta. They had the lead, were playing well and Georgetown took the trip away from them, getting a big game-tying 3-pointer from Jonathan Wallace with 31.2 seconds to play in regulation and then outscoring them 15-3 in the extra session.

"It went from a little over a minute to go, you feel like Wallace misses a shot and we can secure the game," North Carolina's Marcus Ginyard said. "Before you know it, you're sitting on the bench and you're watching them shoot free throws to put them up five, six, seven points. It's crazy how fast it turns around."

Twenty minutes after the game, Lawson was still perplexed.

"I still don't know how we let it get away," Lawson said. "It seemed like we were up 10 with four or five minutes to go and we let them come back and then they went up in overtime. It's a tough loss."

Neither Hansbrough, a sophomore, nor freshman forward Brandan Wright would discuss their future. Both have NBA talent and can opt to leave for the professional level.

"This is tough, you are one step away from the Final Four and (it ends)," Wright said. "Maybe next year."

For Wright, the next few weeks will be tough.

"We had high expectations for ourselves throughout the whole season since day one," Wright said. "Our goal has been to make it to Atlanta. Coach felt we had to do it and we did, too. Sometimes the ball doesn't roll your way."

And sometimes, the shots don't fall.