It wasn't meant to be.
There are only so many things you can have go wrong before it catches up with you. In this case there were answers to losing Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland but there wasn't one for the one player who made it all fit together. Kendall Marshall was the heart, the leader, the facilitator of the offense and the glue guy. Without him, UNC had too many possession of poor offensive execution against a very good defense that resulted in a bad shot. UNC needed a consistent run of points in the final five minutes of the game and could not get it. The defense was in dire straits all day matched against a team with the interior players who controlled the backboards in a way UNC has been accustomed to doing all season. Without offensive rebounds to create second chances for Tyler Zeller in particular the offense simply wasn't enough against the fourth ranked defense in the country.
And yet with the hand UNC was dealt, the Heels found themselves down 68-67 with less than five minutes left. While UNC was not able to get over the hump you really have to applaud the effort. After the way UNC played on Friday night and going out there with a starting point guard who was brought in as a last resort emergency option, the Heels played surprisingly well. Stilman White ended up dishing out 13 assists in two games without committing a turnover. James Michael McAdoo since late in the season grew up before our eyes and showed the world how good he can possibly be with 15 points to lead the Heels. Zeller fought hard but was hampered by double teams on his way to 12 points, six rebounds and four blocks in his final game as a Tar Heel. Justin Watts came in and did some good things including scoring five points and hitting a three but it simply was not enough.
Reggie Bullock tweak his knee against Ohio and while he was good in that game simply could not get it going in this one. John Henson received a cortisone shot for his wrist prior to the game then rolled his ankle early in the first half effecting his performance. Then there was Harrison Barnes who showed signs of life with eight points late in the first half but went the final 17 minutes without a field goal to end the game with 13 points on 5-14 shooting. Barnes was 8-30 for the regionals and if this was his last game as a Tar Heel will talk out the door as one of the great enigmas in Carolina basketball history.
UNC ends the season 32-6 in a season that will join 1984 as one of the great "what ifs" for Tar Heel fans to toss around for years to come. We have a pretty good idea of how the last two games would have gone had Kendall Marshall not been injured a week ago. When you start factoring in no wrist injury for John Henson and healthy knees for Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald all of a sudden you are talking about a deep team sporting much more quickness and firepower. It is something we will speculate about and never know the true answer.
What we do know is the players who showed up, did right by the Carolina Way. They fought to the end despite being dealt a flood of adversity. It is important to remember that for everything that goes right in 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009 there will be more seasons where the wrong things happen. It doesn't make it hurt any less, especially for someone like Zeller who all of us would have love to have seen take the court in the Final Four.
It wasn't meant to be and yes it really sucks.