NEW YORK - APRIL 01: Deon Thompson #21 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts against the Dayton Flyers during the 2010 NIT Championship Game at Madison Square Garden on April 1, 2010 in New York, New York.
Well, playing like Carolina's played of late finally caught up to them. The turnovers, the missed shots, the poor free throw shooting; they were all there. It's just this time they were coupled with two things, an opponent that took advantage of those mistakes, unlike the others of the NIT, and a team that could rebound.
And rebound they did. Dayton had a 36-25 advantage on the boards, and limited the Heels to seven offensive boards, their lowest outing of the season. Let's face it, this team was never going to heat up the nets – the last shot of Marcus Ginyard's college career was a missed layup – so second chance opportunities were going to be crucial. And they didn't get them. Heck, two of the offensive rebounds were Deon Thompson retrieving his own shots from under the basket on the same play. I'm pretty sure that exercise in futility would have continued for the rest of the game had he not eventually been fouled.
Even so, there were bright points. Down thirteen at the half, UNC came out of the locker room and went on a 14-4 run, built around two of Graves five threes for the half. He finished with 25 points, 21 of which came from his 7 of 13 shooting from behind the arc, as he set a UNC record for threes in a postseason game. Unfortunately, Carolina was never able to get closer than that three-point margin. Every time the got that one extra stop, they couldn't convert on the offensive end, and every time the made a bucket to stay close, they couldn't get the next stop. With the number of bounces that went their way, such as Dayton losing Chris Johnson for much of the first half, and a decent advantage in fouls until they forced to start stopping the clock, they should have managed better. But that's been the theme all year, hasn't it?
So in the end it was Dayton cutting down the nets in what looks increasingly like the last NIT postseason tournament. (And great decision making on your part there, NCAA. What the tournament has always lacked is a team like this year's UNC flaming out in the first round.) Carolina salvaged a bit of a bad season with this run in March, but there's always going to be a bit of wondering how good this team really should have been all along. But there's the entire summer to dwell on that. For now, there's just a team that came up short one more time.