Garrison Brooks hit a shot he probably shouldn’t have to tie the game up with just under 10 seconds left in the second overtime of Wednesday night’s game against the Hokies of Virginia Tech. The Hokies inbounded the ball with 9.7 seconds remaining and passed the ball up the floor, mostly uncontested. Landers Nolley II handed the ball off to Tyrece Radford with what would end up being 4.6 seconds left in the game. What happened next is a near-perfect distillation of the season thus far.
Look at the picture at the top of this article. It shows a true freshman, Jeremiah Francis, struggling to get back to contest a shot as the game takes flight. The same Jeremiah Francis who’s been pressed into service by injuries to other Tar Heels even while battling injuries himself. The same freshman who, in other seasons, would have the benefit of time to learn and get the hang of things under more experienced teammates.
Tyrece Radford made the most of his 4.6 seconds after taking the handoff, slashing into the paint, and knocking Francis off his spot. He took advantage of the extra space, putting the ball up where it bounced for a small eternity on the iron before falling through the nylon with under a second left—a fraction of a moment that would prove to be no more than a formality.
After the ensuing inbound pass was picked off by already-celebrating Hokies, Garrison Brooks had a seat on the court under the Tar Heel basket. The same Garrison Brooks who led the team in points (28), rebounds (14), and assists (6). The same Tar Heel who played 48 of a possible 50 minutes in the game. The same player who had hit an improbable game-tying shot a 10-second eon ago. Sometimes, when a Herculean effort isn’t enough, you can’t do anything but sit down and think. Sometimes, I’d imagine, the weight of a team gets to be too much.
The Tar Heels led by a dozen points with what should have been 13 minutes left in the game. If you’ve watched other games this season, you may have recognized the creeping certainty. A small tickle on the back of your neck, perhaps, as Virginia Tech hit another three. A stone in the pit of your stomach, maybe, as another Hokie stepped up and hit his free throws. That sinking feeling as the ball hung on the rim at the end of the second and final overtime.
The Tar Heels lost their sixth consecutive ACC game on Wednesday night, for the first time in the program’s history. Those last few plays, if frozen in amber à la Jurassic Park’s all-important mosquito, could tell us all we need to know about the season thus far.