HOUSTON — Roy Williams cried.
He felt powerless — not a feeling to which he’s accustomed.
He told his North Carolina players that if they did what he asked in the final minutes of the national championship they’d have a chance to beat Villanova.
“I just didn’t go guard Kris,” Williams said of Kris Jenkins, who hit the game-winning 3 at the buzzer to give Villanova the 77-74 victory.
If this is the end of the coaching road for Williams — what a heartbreaking way to go.
“It was helpless,” Williams said rubbing his ruddy face. “It was not a good feeling.”
He and the Tar Heels endured a flood of emotions in the final seconds of Monday night’s game. They thought overtime was a foregone conclusion after Marcus Paige’s 3-pointer tied it with 4.7 seconds remaining.
“I told my team when I made that shot, we go to overtime,” Paige said. “We got 4.7 seconds to play defense and this game is ours.”
Instead Jenkins made an even more surprising 3-pointer to give Villanova the title and leave Paige weeping so heavily that it caused his teeth to chatter as he lamented the missed opportunity.
“It’s hard because at some point tonight I have to take this jersey off and I never get to put it back on,” he said.
Paige led North Carolina (33-7) with 21 points as this North Carolina team came agonizingly close to giving Williams a third national title after he won in both 2005 and 2009. It was the first time the Tar Heels had lost a national title game since a defeat by Indiana in 1981.
Michael Jordan came out to support the team. Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, too. But the North Carolina stars of old couldn’t do anything to help this team on Monday night, filing out in stunned silence like the rest of the Tar Heel fans in Houston.
The pain was clear on Williams’ face, conveying just how desperately he wished he could say or do something to help his guys deal with the loss that broke a 10-game winning streak.
“I’m not very good because I can’t take away the hurt,” he said. “I’m not very good because I can’t change that. I told them I loved them. I told them I wish I could have helped them more. That I appreciated them from the bottom of my heart.”
Fans will most vividly remember the final shots, but the Tar Heels know that if they hadn’t shot so poorly for the entire second half they wouldn’t have been in the situation they were in at the end.
The Wildcats used a big run early in the second half to take a two-point lead before North Carolina made a basket to tie it at 46-46 with just more than 13 minutes left. The Tar Heels then missed their next seven shots as Villanova scored the next seven points to take a 53-46 lead midway through the second half.
North Carolina got within 3 after a pair of free throws by Kennedy Meeks with about seven minutes left, but Ryan Arcidiacono scored the first five points of a 7-0 spurt that made it 67-57 with 5 1/2 left.
The Tar Heels set up the drama at the end by using a 12-3 run to cut the lead to 70-69 with one minute left.
They made just 12 of 35 shots in the second half for just 34.3 percent shooting after shooting 53.6 percent before halftime to lead by 5 at the break.
“They’re a terrific defensive team,” Paige said. “They challenge every shot. They don’t make very many mistakes. We also missed a ton of shots at the rim … Those change the entire complexion of the game when you look at that last possession.”
,Roy Williams cried.
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