In 2007 during UNC's Elite Eight game with Georgetown, the Tar Heels led the Hoyas by 10 with six minutes left. UNC had the ball and Danny Green took an open but quick three early in the shot clock. He missed. Georgetown ultimately rallied to tie the game and won in overtime ending UNC's season.
Marcus Paige had his Danny Green moment in this game. With 3:56 left in the game and UNC up 76-68, Paige took a quick three which would have given the Heels an 11 point lead. It was not necessarily a bad shot given how clutch Paige has been this season and how well he shoots in the latter stages of games. And anyone watching the game and knows Paige's reputation assumed it was going in. It didn't which led to a long rebound, which led to a run out and open three on the other end for Iowa State turning an eight point game into a five point game.
From that point on it became a battle but not one UNC didn't still have some control over. UNC was able to match Iowa State but only to a point. Over the games final five minutes of the game, ISU scored on eight of their final nine possession including a trio of three pointers. While the Paige missed three was crucial in not shortening the game, UNC's defense simply was not able to stop drivers or cover the Cyclones in transition. Both of those issues led to the open threes and permitted ISU to reduce the lead more quickly.
The stumble to the game's end was a sharp departure from UNC having taken control of the game by wearing Iowa State down. After falling behind by as much as seven in the first half, UNC closed to within three by intermission. The Tar Heels relied heavily on interior play but lost Brice Johnson early in the first half to a sprained ankle. James Michael McAdoo struggled around the rim but Kennedy Meeks picked up the slack as ISU had little answer for his size. On the flip side, UNC had also kinds of trouble guarding the Cylcones in the first half and it wasn't until midway through the second when ISU began to tire did the defensive stops come. That allowed UNC to open up some breathing room and it seemed Roy Williams' plan to wear Iowa State down had worked.
The Cyclones second wind and subsequent push got the them back into the game as UNC blew a number of opportunities. The Tar Heels' penchant for missing easy shots continued in this game and was a problem in both halves. With the game tied at 81, Paige committed a crucial turnover with 31 seconds left in the game. ISU got an immediate layup out of it pushing the lead to two. After McAdoo made a pair of free throws, Iowa State had the ball with 15 seconds left and UNC needing one stop to send the game to overtime. It didn't happen as DeAndre Kane got a screen, drove and Jackson Simmons rotation was far too late to make a difference. Kane hit the layup with 1.6 second left. Nate Britt attempted to bring the ball up for a timeout but time ran out.
Paige led the Heels with 19 points and while he did make two crucial mistakes, UNC's whole season is credited to a great many things he has done right. Leslie McDonald ended his UNC career with 18 points and made four threes. Kennedy Meeks dominated the middle with 15 points and 13 rebounds in what is hopefully a sign of things to come. James Michael McAdoo had 14 and J.P. Tokoto had 11 points, six rebounds and two steals to close out a second straight game with five Tar Heels in double figures.
Ultimately the 2007 team used the pain of the Georgetown loss as a catalyst to return in 2008 and make it to the Final Four. While this team has a little more work to do in order to reach that level, the Tar Heels should return almost everyone. McDonald is done and McAdoo's future is to be decided. However there are plenty of good pieces returning even if McAdoo doesn't. Several players need to take some developmental steps in the offeseason but this group plus the incoming freshman should put UNC back into the top ten.
Season losses are tough but easier to ultimately get past knowing the program in good shape and also knowing you didn't lose to a #14 seed 20 miles from your campus.