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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's basketball falls short in legendary title game

Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for the win.

Senior Marcus Paige takes a shot against Villanova on April 4.

Senior Marcus Paige takes a shot against Villanova on April 4.

Not Michael Jordan. Not Phil Ford. Not Vince Carter. Not any of the dozens of former North Carolina players watching from the stands.

Those guys were legends in their own right and in their own time. On Monday, legends roamed the floor wearing Carolina Blue.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this, though. There was confetti falling on smiling, misty-eyed players. A coach cutting down a net with his scissors waving high in the air. A trophy presentation for a team that had just won a long-awaited national title.

But the North Carolina men’s basketball team was tucked away in a locker room, where the sounds of elation from Villanova’s 77-74 victory were inaudible.

How they got to the breathtakingly quiet locker room is why it hurts.

The game started sloppy — with UNC and Villanova combining for four turnovers in the first four minutes, much in part to the Wildcats’ aggressive full-court trapping defense.

Though Marcus Paige began the game 0-for-3 from the field, he helped the team pull out to a lead toward the end of the first half. On four consecutive possessions, Paige was directly involved in the Tar Heels scoring, transforming a five-point deficit into a two-point lead.

Carnage ensued, with foul totals piling up on both sides as the teams went to their respective locker rooms at halftime. The Tar Heels led by five with one half left to play.

A half that would last an eternity.

After halftime, Villanova retook the lead with 13:28 on the clock, and it took Paige just 14 seconds to knot it back up. The Wildcats answered with a 3-pointer then went on a run of their own, elevating the lead to seven points.

The tension in the stadium was palpable. A classic finale was coming.

It gets fuzzy now.

There was a Paige corner 3-pointer to cut the lead to three. A well-designed half-court trap by the guards to force a turnover. Then a Paige missed layup, offensive rebound and successful kiss off the glass.

The Tar Heels were down by three with just 22 ticks left on the clock.

Then, it happened.

Paige made a shot so unbelievable that there are no words to describe it. There’s nothing to be said that would make it any more or less believable.

But it went in. A 3-pointer from beyond the arc tying the game at 74 with just 4.7 seconds left.

“You know, I just want to have the ball in my hands in that situation,” Paige said.

After a timeout, the ball was thrown into Ryan Arcidiacono. He ran the floor, tightly guarded by Joel Berry, before flinging the ball backward to Kris Jenkins.

Jenkins set his feet and fired a deep 3-pointer that was nothing but nylon.

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Confetti. Nets. Trophy.

A swing of emotions unmatched. A team with the hearts of lions. A defeat that will ache forever.

“I’ve never been as proud of a group as I am of this group right now,” Coach Roy Williams said.

“I just wish I could have helped them a little bit more.”