CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was somewhat fitting, if not entirely coincidental, that Venoy Overton sat apart from his University of Washington teammates shortly after the Huskies’ third-round game of the NCAA tournament Sunday afternoon.
While the rest of the Huskies sat in folding chairs in one of the locker rooms at Time Warner Cable Arena, many of them with heads in hands, Overton was surrounded only by team trainers in an adjacent room while trying to make sense of UW’s 86-83 loss to North Carolina.
It could be said that Overton wasn’t ready to face his teammates.
After taking an entire regular season to prove that they could win a close game at crunch time, the Huskies had become nearly invincible in those situations come tournament time. And yet when UW found itself in another position to make a shot for the ages early Sunday afternoon, it was Overton who took the ball out of the hands of the Huskies’ shooters.
“It would’ve been better if I just would’ve been on the bench (in the closing seconds), where I was most of the game,” said Overton, who played 12 total minutes after being the fourth man to come off the UW bench seven minutes into Sunday’s game.
After 38 minutes of going toe-to-toe with East Region No. 2 seed North Carolina in the Tar Heels’ own backyard, the Huskies made too many costly mistakes down the stretch to pull off the upset and make a second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16.
The most visible one came when Overton threw up a prayer of a shot from just across midcourt with time left on the clock and the Huskies trailing by three points.
Overton took an inbounds pass with a little more than 5 seconds left on the clock in a game that UNC led 86-83. He sprinted up the sideline and, just as he crossed midcourt, rose into the air and threw a Hail Mary shot with about 2 seconds left on the clock.
A few minutes later, inside the UW locker room, Overton said that he was expecting North Carolina freshman Kendall Marshall to intentionally foul him. It’s a common practice among teams leading by three points in the final seconds – a foul can take away the chance of a tying 3-point shot – and UNC coach Roy Williams said he had instructed his players to foul in the backcourt Sunday.
But Marshall’s initial move toward a possible foul left Overton hanging in the air when the UNC freshman pulled his arm back.
“Game over,” a despondent Overton said later, when asked what thought crossed his mind as he tossed the ball toward the rim from 40-something feet away.
The Huskies actually had one more chance, thanks to a UNC player touching the ball as it went out of bounds. With 0.5 seconds remaining, Isaiah Thomas took an inbounds pass and got off an off-balance shot from the corner. His shot, which would have been a 2-pointer because his foot was on the 3-point line, fell short and was swatted away by UNC big man John Henson just below the rim.
It was a disappointing way to finish the season, especially for a UW team that had pulled off three of its final four wins in heart-stopping fashion. The Huskies beat Washington State by two points, defeated Arizona on Thomas’ overtime 3 at the buzzer, and hung on to beat Georgia by three points in their NCAA tournament opener Friday.
So it was no wonder that Thomas recalled the final 5 seconds of Sunday’s game by saying, “I felt like we were going to win.”
After the game, several teammates sat in the locker room, trying to come to terms with the end of a season that started with so much promise.
“The season’s over,” said Bryan-Amaning, one of three seniors. “I’m not a college basketball player anymore.”
North Carolina 86, Washington 83
Washington (24-11)—Bryan-Amaning 7-14 0-0 14, Holiday 2-6 0-0 4, N’Diaye 2-3 0-0 4, Thomas 5-15 2-2 12, Suggs 3-6 0-0 8, Overton 1-3 3-3 5, Wilcox 4-9 0-0 11, Ross 7-10 2-2 19, Gant 2-6 0-0 6. Totals 33-72 7-7 83.
North Carolina (28-7)—Henson 4-12 2-5 10, Barnes 9-19 0-0 22, Zeller 8-14 7-7 23, Strickland 5-8 3-4 13, Marshall 3-6 6-7 13, McDonald 2-5 0-0 5, Watts 0-1 0-0 0, Knox 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 31-66 18-23 86.
Halftime—Washington 45-44. 3-Point Goals—Washington 10-19 (Wilcox 3-5, Ross 3-5, Gant 2-3, Suggs 2-4, Thomas 0-2), North Carolina 6-12 (Barnes 4-7, Marshall 1-2, McDonald 1-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Washington 40 (N’Diaye 11), North Carolina 37 (Henson 10). Assists—Washington 17 (Thomas 8), North Carolina 18 (Marshall 14). Total Fouls—Washington 20, North Carolina 9. A—NA.