I'll say this. That was definitely an NIT game.
The two teams ran full-tilt the entire game, generally after balls bouncing out-of-bounds. The teams had 17 turnovers apiece, and often traded them on back-to-back fast break attempts. I don't think I've ever seen so many missed layups and dunks. And the free throws. Good Lord, the free throws. UNC started 3 for 9 from the line, and with Rhode Island hitting theirs, I was sure this would be what did the Heels in. Then the Rams went 1 for 5 in the last three minutes while Larry Drew single-handedly made up a five point deficit to force overtime.
At that point, Drew looked like the only person who wanted to win the game – Thompson had earned a double-double, but hadn't made a positive contribution to the box score since the seven-and-a-half minute mark – but with the ball and the shot clock off, he hesitated on a drive and pulled up for the three; UNC was 1 for 15 from behind the arc when he did that, and his shot went the way of fourteen others. There was overtime.
Ah, overtime. Where URI scored on their first three possessions with layups. Where, despite that, UNC nursed a 68-67 lead with two minutes remaining. And then sent a pass off Deon Thompson's hands out-of-bounds. And then on the next possession saw Thompson miss a tip-in. And yet they still got that out-of-bounds call – URI coach Jim Baron was pissed over that – and drained away the game clock only to miss another shot to extend the lead.
And then comes what will be the subject of many an angry YouTube video. Lamonte Ulmer corrals the rebound and scrambles out to the wing, barely controlling the ball. Ulmer trips and hits the floor, the ball goes to Strickland and the game's over. Of course, it's most likely a prone Will Graves that sent Ulmer to the ground, and it's almost certain an automatic foul, but there's no whistle, and no review. UNC motors off the court, leaving a stunned Rams team behind.
It's not the way I'd have liked it to go down, but there's not much you can do. On the bright side, in the midst of some pretty horrid play, the Heels did rebound, and rebound well. They pulled down the most boards since the Texas game, and weathered some strong URI runs by not giving them to many second chances at the hoop. The defense also stepped up, and I think their successes kept the team from fully collapsing when their shooting went cold for long stretches. Early in the season, this team would have collapsed in this situation. Now they can grit through this sort of play, and earn the right to stay in New York for a couple of more days. They have Dayton on Thursday, the team that knocked Dean Smith out of his first Final Four in 1967. One more historical wrong to right in the 100th anniversary season, I guess.