KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The desperation inside the Sprint Center was palpable.
When the North Carolina men's basketball team gave up six straight points to lose the lead to Auburn before the end of the first half on Friday, the feeling surfaced for only a moment. But at that point, there were 20 minutes left to decide a spot in the Elite Eight — plenty of time to figure it out.
Then the Tigers came out firing from behind the arc, a response to an uncharacteristically poor opening performance, 5-for-19 from deep in the first half.
No. 5 seed Auburn knocked down its first 3-point shot of the second half just 23 seconds in. Then the Tigers knocked down two more in the next two minutes, as the momentum snowballed into a 7-for-11 rebirth from deep in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The team had built a double-digit lead before No. 1 seed UNC (29-7) could even blink, and that was only the start.
"It seemed like they just hit three after three after three after three after three,” junior guard Brandon Robinson said after Auburn’s historic shooting night, unlike anything a Roy Williams’ coached team or the NCAA Tournament has ever seen.
And the worst part, for the Tar Heels’ chances of capturing a 14th 30-win season and spot among the final eight teams in the country, was the team had nothing to counter it.
"When a team is on fire like that, and everything is going for them,” first-year point guard Coby White said, “It's hard to stop."
When it mattered most, during the second half, Auburn made 12 of 18 3-point shots, accounting for nearly 70 percent in the category during that period, compared to UNC's 2 of 13. Auburn has made more threes than anyone else in the country. After missing plenty of open opportunities, it was bound to happen for the Tigers' shooters eventually.