Philadelphia, PA – Roy Williams clenched his fists, as well as his teeth and his team, trying to drain one last stop, one last basket that would somehow, some way put away an Ohio team that many thought didn't belong.
And then the world started spinning, a feeling that encapsulated the coach even before the dizzying final, frantic seconds and an overtime to boot.
"I was just begging and pleading and trying to work my rear end off to get us in. And my head was killing me," said Williams. "I got a little dizzy out there a couple times, but I said, 'If I'm going to die, let's at least die with a win.'"
Maybe that living-and-breathing-the-job fable isn't so outlandish after all. There was Williams, a Hall of Famer with two titles and an open invitation to any of Chapel Hill's finest eateries, trying his darnedest (in Roy's words) to awake his team from a time of panic.
And make no mistake, even Cool Hand Tyler Zeller's stomach had to be turning. Ohio was at the line with 25 seconds left in a tie game, 63-63, with its player of the night, Walter Offutt, on the line with a chance to give the Bobcats the lead.
CBS started a split-screen with its lead analyst, Clark Kellogg, watching courtside in Atlanta and pulling for his son, Ohio guard Nick Kellogg, and the Bobcats. Clark was joined in rooting interests by every fan not wearing powder blue in St. Louis, as well as every non-Tar Heel basketball fan across the country.
For the first time on the night, it was Ohio which felt like the heavyweight, the team with all of the momentum, crowd support and a golden opportunity to set up one last defensive stop for a trip to the Elite Eight.
Yet, many times fairy tales never fully materialize. Offutt missed the foul shot, and even though Harrison Barnes didn't even get off a last-second chance at victory, the end of regulation gave the Tar Heels time to regroup, and Williams a few more seconds to instill the confidence back in his club.
The Tar Heels responded in the extra session, getting five big points from Barnes, who was flat-out awful in the first 40 minutes, missing from all over the gym, yet still brimming with confidence during tired-legs time.
"He's a unique individual," Williams said of Barnes. "Three for 16, and he's still willing to try to make plays."
Stilman White, the walk-on who stuck out like a sore thumb among the UNC trees, also made his share of plays, finishing with six assists to zero turnovers in 32 minutes of game action. Despite his gutsy effort, the Tar Heels were a visibly different team without Kendall Marshall, forced to play at a slower pace with Zeller and John Henson facing constant double teams.
Near the end of a lengthy press conference, with his face still red with angst and the furrows of his forehead wrought with fatigue, Williams was finally asked to look ahead to Sunday, a tilt against his former team, Kansas, with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
Instead of the coaching storyline, however, Williams was offered the opportunity to play doctor and assess Marshall's playing status for the regional final.
"I would love to give you guys an answer, but I really can't. I have no idea. He is much better. And he's gotten off some of the medication and he's much better," Williams said before likening Marshall's importance to that of former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
One thing's for sure. Williams hopes Marshall is in uniform on Sunday, or it may be another dizzying 40 minutes with a trip to New Orleans on the line.
Elite Eight Predictions
Ohio State 76, Syracuse 68: I hedge because William Buford looks lost offensively (1-of-8 versus Cincinnati), and his perimeter presence affords Jared Sullinger more freedom in the paint. Look for Syracuse to pack it in and force Ohio State to make perimeter shots. DeShaun Thomas, who scored 26 against the Bearcats, is the key. It says here that he makes just enough shots to stretch the zone, and the Buckeyes' under-the-radar defense does just enough on the other end.
Louisville 68, Florida 65: The Cardinals frustrated Draymond Green and Keith Appling with a steady dose of overplay defense and full court pressure that disrupted Michigan State's offensive flow. Rick Pitino will try to force Erving Walker to exert energy early in the shot clock in an attempt to limit the number of overall possessions. The Cardinals have speed, but would prefer a drag-out fight to a sprint. It says here that Louisville controls the glass and does just enough to bother Florida's three-point shooting. The Gators made only 7-of-27 from beyond the arc in this gym on Thursday.
Kentucky 87, Baylor 75: After the 102-point show the Wildcats put on against Indiana, educated minds have to wonder. Who is stopping this bright blue locomotive? It wouldn't appear to be the Bears, who looked great early on Friday, jumping all over Xavier before letting the Musketeers back into the game. That type of ebb and flow, lights-on, lights-off mentality won't work against Kentucky's trees and experience. Baylor will hang at its best, but get buried during its inevitable five-minute lull.
North Carolina 74, Kansas 73: An instant classic predicated on the health of Marshall, who is vital to take some of the pressure off Zeller, Henson and freshman James McAdoo. I'm thinking Bill Self doubles Zeller at every turn and uses Thomas Robinson to push the ACC Player of the Year off his favorite spot on the block, where he normally sets up for his patented hook shot. Tyshawn Taylor needs to be better than his 2-of-14 showing against North Carolina State, and he will get plenty of looks if White is again thrust into duty. I like Kansas if Marshall sits, but I just don't envision that happening. It says here that the UNC point guard plays in spurts and wills his team to the Final Four.