Washington's season ended Sunday in Charlotte, N.C., where the Huskies fell to North Carolina, 86-83. "We did a lot of things right that could lead you to a victory," coach Lorenzo Romar said.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When it was over — after a litany of late-game miscues ruined their bid to upset North Carolina and return to the Sweet 16 — the Huskies walked into their locker room and sat quietly on cold metal chairs.
“You rallied up,” coach Lorenzo Romar told them. “At the end of the year, we became a really good basketball team.”
They nodded in stunned silence because even if their 86-83 defeat ended their NCAA tournament run sooner than they expected, Washington proved it belonged on the biggest stage in college basketball.
“We did a lot of things right that could lead you to a victory,” Romar said. “Just down the stretch we didn’t make the plays that were necessary to allow us to be in the victory circle.”
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Few expected the seventh-seeded Huskies to beat the No. 2 seed Tar Heels in Carolina country. Not with so many baby blue-clad fans crammed inside Time Warner Cable Arena and against a UNC team that features an NBA-sized front line.
Still, Washington led by as many as 11 points in the first half and carried a 45-44 lead into the break.
With 5:40 remaining, the Huskies were up 76-73.
“At that point I’m thinking, ‘Finish it out,’ ” Matthew Bryan-Amaning said. “But we didn’t finish.”
Washington’s next five possessions: Turnover. Turnover. Missed jumper and blocked putback. Missed jumper. And missed jumper.
While the Huskies’ offense evaporated, North Carolina surged ahead 80-76 with 3:25 left.
Aziz N’Diaye stopped the drought with a tip-in and UW closed to within two points. Still, momentum had shifted to UNC.
The Huskies were the more experienced team with eight returners from last season’s Sweet 16 squad, but it was the young Tar Heels who kept their poise in the end.
North Carolina led 84-80 when junior guard Scott Suggs drained a three-pointer with 17 seconds remaining, cutting UW’s deficit to 1. Tar Heels guard Leslie McDonald then missed the front end of a one-and-one.
And that’s when everything fell apart for the Huskies.
Venoy Overton motored up the sideline before hoisting a running, contested layup that missed, but the Huskies retained possession when North Carolina knocked the ball out of bounds.
With 7.4 seconds left, North Carolina sophomore John Henson used his 88-inch wingspan and deflected Justin Holiday’s inbound pass to Dexter Strickland.
Strickland was fouled and converted both attempts, giving the Tar Heels a three-point lead.
Washington still had a chance with 5.4 seconds left.
Romar put the ball in Overton’s hands and the senior guard raced along the sideline near the UW bench.
He stepped across midcourt and tried to draw a foul when he lofted an awkward shot with about two seconds left that sailed out of bounds off a Tar Heel.
“I misjudged his reach,” Overton said. “I got in the air, but I had to throw it up. I thought I timed it, but he pulled back.”
Officials put 0.5 seconds on the clock — even though replays revealed the ball landed out with about 1.1 left.
Thomas took the last shot, a desperate jumper inside the three-point line as time expired that Henson swatted at the rim.
Maybe the referees should have added more time on the clock, but time ultimately ran out on the Huskies and a season that promised more than it delivered.
They staggered into the postseason lamenting their misfortune and blaming themselves for a midseason swoon that sent them to the East region, so far from home.
“We would be fooling ourselves if we would not have admitted that it was a tough, tough road to come this far, 2,800 miles, and play who we had to play,” Romar said. “We understood that.”
The Huskies (24-11) were 2-3 in their last five regular-season games before winning the conference tournament.
“We were inconsistent during the year,” Romar said. “We didn’t get as high a seed as probably we would have liked.
“Once we realized that was the case, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We didn’t look back. We said, ‘This is how it is. Let’s go.’ Our guys did a good job of attacking it that way. We just came up short.”
All five UNC starters scored in double figures, including forwards Tyler Zeller (23 points), Harrison Barnes (22) and Henson (10 points and 10 rebounds).
For the second straight year, Washington fell to a bigger team. But in many ways this three-point defeat was more palatable than last year’s 69-56 loss to West Virginia.
“I think so,” junior forward Darnell Gant said. “Maybe because we know we can build off of this.”
The Huskies lose three seniors:
• Bryan-Amaning finished with 14 points and eight rebounds in his final UW game.
• Holiday was 2-for-6 shooting and continued a late-season slump.
• And Overton had five points and two assists in 12 minutes.
“These guys have a bright future,” Holiday said. “I know they’ll play hard every game. I just wish we could have gotten them back to the Sweet 16 and maybe even farther.”
Washington’s future is promising.
Freshman Terrence Ross, who scored a team-high 19 points, and N’Diaye, who had a game-high 11 rebounds, had big games Sunday.
Freshman sharpshooter C.J. Wilcox connected on three three-pointers en route to 11 points and Suggs and Gant each dropped two treys.
The biggest piece suggesting a fourth-straight NCAA tournament appearance is possible is 5-foot-9 guard Thomas. He had 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting and eight assists.
“It’s hard to think about next year right now,” Thomas said. “This hurts. It’s going to hurt for a long time.”