Aaron Beard of AP Sports examines the impact of what I consider to be one of the worst collapses I have ever seen a UNC basketball team endure.
Wayne Ellington has replayed the shot over and over in his head, a leaning 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation to beat Georgetown and send North Carolina to the Final Four.
Instead, the shot clanged off the rim, allowing the Hoyas to complete a stunning second-half comeback and beat the Tar Heels in overtime.
Seven months have passed since that stinging disappointment, yet the Tar Heels still talk about that loss with the same stunned confusion about what went wrong. And for a team that brings back almost everyone from a loaded group that won the Atlantic Coast Conference title and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, it has become the made-to-order motivation for players who struggled with intensity and focus last season.
"It's definitely something I think about every day," junior Marcus Ginyard said Thursday during the Tar Heels' annual preseason media day. "It's not that I'm dwelling on it or it's in the front of my head every day. It's not that it's blocking me from things I have to do. But it's not forgotten."
The players don't need Williams to remind them of that. Ginyard said it took weeks for him to get over the loss, while sophomore point guard Ty Lawson confessed, "I still don't know what happened. ... It's like a blur to me how we lost the lead so quick."
The team has now taken the attitude that the 2007-08 season started immediately after the loss, an approach that fueled the players throughout their offseason workouts.
"It really has driven everybody on this team this summer to try to get better and work on their game," said junior Tyler Hansbrough, a two-time All-America pick by The Associated Press. "I try not to (think about the loss), but it's hard when that's what you work so hard for. ... It bothered me a long time. It was always around."
Ellington - who missed the chance to bail out his foundering teammates in March - felt the same way.
"I've practiced (the last shot) many, many times over again," the sophomore said. "I'll definitely be ready the next time it comes my way."
I was fairly certain after it happened that if UNC brought most of the team back that this game would be the rallying cry on the road to San Antonio. I had actually reached a point in my life where I could put UNC losses behind me within 24 hours but this one bothered me for days. I can only imagine how it was for the players and coaches. The silver lining is it becomes the basis of motivation for the next season. This team is on a mission to redeem themselves from completely falling to pieces at around 7 PM that Sunday in March. Aside from the motivation to work harder over the summer it makes the players more mature and unites them as a team. As Lawson said, he is not sure how it fell apart so fast but having gone through that collapse I am willing to bet this team will be more cognizant of closing teams out when given the opportunity and not panicking should it look like the same type of collapse is happening again.
In the end, if you are not going to win the national title the best thing you can take way from it is experience and a burning desire to redeem the failure which ended your previous season. These Tar Heels have both. Let's see if the combination of talent and the quest for redemption delivers the trophy.