That’s how the ball ricocheted off the rim on the front end of a one-and-one with 12 seconds left in the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s (25-11, 11-7 ACC) gut-wrenching 67-65 win against No. 13 seed Harvard (22-8, 11-3 Ivy League) on Thursday.
With the fourth-seeded Tar Heels clinging onto their eventual game-winning two-point lead, Kennedy Meeks had a chance to make it a two-possession game.
Before he toed the line, Coach Roy Williams rose from his seat on the UNC bench and delivered two punishing claps directed at his 6-foot-9 sophomore forward. On the court, junior J.P. Tokoto calmly delivered some words of advice.
“Just focus,” Tokoto told him. “Yeah, he missed the free throw, but I know he’s capable of knocking those down. If he had it again, I’d guarantee — I’d put money on it that he would make it.”
Just a little too far left.
“I mean, I thought it was good,” said Meeks after the game. “It left my hand good. But I guess God had another plan for us.”
That seemed to be the case for most of the second half Thursday night — that the basketball gods had something else in store for UNC. All signs pointed to an early trip home.
The Tar Heels took a 16-point lead with 15:20 left in the game. Then came the Crimson. Then came the play that everyone wants to forget. The one that will be hard to watch on game film come Friday.
With 1:15 left in the contest, junior Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Foul. And-one with the ensuing made free throw. Just like that Harvard had its first lead of the game, 65-63.
Here we go again, sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks says he and his teammates tried not to think.
“Bad things will happen,” Hicks said. “Just know, it’s not gonna be easy. Don’t nobody wanna go home. So it’s like a fight to the end type of thing.”
UNC fought to the end on the game’s last three possessions after Chambers’ miracle heave. Freshman wing Justin Jackson immediately buried his trademark floater to tie the game at 65-65.
A Harvard miss on the next play found its way into Tokoto’s hands. Off one foot, Tokoto threw the ball up the court to junior guard Marcus Paige.
“The pass felt like it took forever to get there because I was gonna lay it up,” he said. “Then Justin did a great job of sprinting and giving me an option.”
Paige bounce pass, Jackson dunk to take a 67-65 lead. On Harvard’s next possession, Meeks grabbed a Chambers miss from long range and was immediately fouled.
Just a little too far left — a clanked free throw that gave the Crimson one more chance.
Harvard went to senior swingman Wesley Saunders, who finished the night with a game-high 26 points, and Saunders went for a 3-pointer. He went for the win.
“Just miss. Just miss. That was in my head,” Hicks said. “Please miss. Please miss. Luckily, he did. Oh, my God.”
Just a little too long.
“It’s the luckiest I’ve ever felt after a basketball game in my entire life,” Williams said. “In saying that, I’m thrilled we’re still here and we’re still playing.”