North Carolina comes up a 'half-step' short in National Championship

HOUSTON — For the last time in his career, Marcus Paige walked through the North Carolina locker room, still wearing his white No. 5 uniform.

As he walked, the cameras followed in a silent procession, cutting through a room that was void of the carefree laughter that filled it just a day earlier.

Most players sat alone in the aftermath of the 77-74 national championship loss to No. 2-seed Villanova, towels draped around their necks or over their heads, blank stares on their faces and eyes still bloodshot. The players who weren’t left alone spoke in uneven sentences, about the improbability of the last possession, the brotherhood from this season that would never be recreated and the love between them and their coach.

As Paige sat down in a lone metal folding chair in the back of the locker room, a massive banner of he and his teammates grinning broadly wearing Final Four hats, celebrating the East Regional championship hung to his left.

He sat down in the seat, breathing hard, pulling at the ends of the towel around his neck.

In that moment, he wasn’t gasping for air because he was out of breath, but because he was out of time.

4.7 seconds before Kris Jenkins’ shot dropped through the net and the confetti fell, Paige thought he had given himself more time. On a night when so many of UNC’s simple shots didn’t fall, a circus shot — a double-pump 3-pointer — tied the national championship and gave Paige a program record 39 career NCAA Tournament 3-pointers.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had anybody make a tougher shot than Marcus Paige made,” coach Roy Williams said.

The crowd roared. Jaws dropped. Small seat cushions distributed to most of the 74,340 fans flew in the air.

“You’re so close to that moment,” Paige said. “You’re 4.7 seconds away from winning the game because I told the team we were going to win if we got to overtime. All we had to do was get to overtime and the game was ours, and I truly believe that and I think our whole team believes that.”

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