The Huskies (24-11) had a chance to win the game with 15 seconds left and down one, 84-83. Venoy Overton dribbled the length of the floor and attempted to lay the ball in, but the ball was slapped out of bounds to Washington with seven seconds left. Justin Holiday's in-bounds pass was tipped by ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson, and the Tar Heels (28-7) came up with the ball.
"You can see why he's the Player of the Year defensively," UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game of Henson. "He has so much length. He anticipates extremely well. Rarely does he leave his feet until the ball leaves the offensive player's hands."
Washington fouled Dexter Strickland, who made two free throws to give North Carolina an 86-83 lead. Overton again grabbed the in-bounds pass and went past half-court, where he threw up a hail mary shot. Henson was unable to corral the ball, and it went out of bounds.
"I think what Venoy did, he kind of prematurely anticipated them fouling him, and I think that's what he did and he tried to get three shots if they were going to foul him early," Romar. "I think that's what happened. But they didn't foul him."
The clock read .5 seconds, but in reality there was over a second left in the game clock. Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game that they asked the officials for a review to make sure they had the correct time on the clock, and he was told they had already done it. But television replays showed otherwise.
With half-a-second remaining, all Washington could do was throw up a contested three, and that's what Isaiah Thomas did from the far corner, and Henson appeared to goaltend the ball as time expired. Television replays showed Thomas' foot was inside the three-point line, so even if the officials had given UW the goaltend, they would have lost by a point. It was the only time Thomas - UW's dynamic play-maker - had touched the ball during the Huskies' final three offensive possessions.
"Our goal was to get to the NCAA Tournament no matter what seed we were," Thomas said. "We knew we can compete with any team in the country. We did an okay job in some areas, but in other areas in this game we didn't do well, and they capitalized on it and they got the win."
Terrence Ross led all UW scorers with 19 points, while Matthew Bryan-Amaning finished his Husky career with 14 points and eight rebounds. Thomas had 12 points and eight assists, while C.J. Wilcox had 11 points. Sophomore center Aziz N'diaye had only four points, but came up with 11 big rebounds.
Tyler Zeller scored 23 for UNC, while freshman All-American Harrison Barnes added 22. Kendall Marshall set a Tar Heels' NCAA record with 14 assists, and scored 13 points. Henson's work resulted in a double-double - 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Henson's tipped pass wasn't the only opportunity Washington had to wrestle this game away from the Tar Heels and the pro-UNC crowd in Charlotte, but key turnovers down the stretch killed any chances they had - while the 'Heels kept their cool.
A Wilcox three with 7:06 left gave UW a 74-69 lead, but then the Tar Heels went to work as the Huskies' sputtered. Barnes' counter trey with 4:02 remaining capped a 9-2 run and forced Romar to call a time out.
Other than an N'Diaye tip, the Huskies had a few empty trips down the court, while Zeller and Marshall converted four-straight free throws. Washington's frosh sensation Ross was stripped clean by Barnes, and Ross was called for a goaltend at the other end, giving the Tar Heels their largest lead of the game, 84-78.
"I wasn't really paying attention to him at the time," Ross said of Barnes. "I was looking, you know, to see the play develop and I wasn't strong with the ball and he got it."
The Huskies wouldn't quit. Bryan-Amaning tipped in a missed shot, and Scott Suggs buried a three with 17.3 seconds left to bring the game to within one. Strickland was fouled two seconds later and missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Washington their best chance at pulling off the upset.
Until the hectic final possessions, the game had been one of runs. Washington drew first blood in that regard, hitting three-straight from behind the arc, followed by an Overton layup and-one, to give the Huskies a 26-15 lead with 10:51 in the first half.
UNC bounced back with a 19-7 extended run. A Strickland jumper with 4:32 remaining in the first half put the Tar Heels up 35-34, as Romar called a timeout. Washington came back with a 10-3 run, and North Carolina responded with a 7-2 run to finish the half down one, 45-44.
Once the second half started, both teams tightened things up on both ends, and even though the pace of the game still favored Washington, neither team was able to generate a lead of more than four points until Wilcox's three with seven minutes left.
The Huskies played well enough to win the game. They out-scored North Carolina's vaunted front line 40-34, out-rebounded them 40-37, and crushed the Tar Heels in bench points, 41-5. The Huskies spread the wealth, as every UW player scored at least four points. But UNC scored 15 key points off of Washington's 13 turnovers, and that proved to be the difference in the game.
"Very hard-fought game," Romar said. "Carolina is a very good basketball team. I was proud of our guys. I hate to see our seniors end it this way. I thought our guys fought, did so many things right, that could have enabled us to win the ballgame but we didn't get it done. Give a lot of credit to the Tar Heels.
"By the end of the year I thought we had become a really good basketball team.
And even in this game today, I think we did a lot of things right that could lead you to a victory just down the stretch. We didn't make the plays that were necessary to allow us to be in the victory circle."
Points: Ross 19, Bryan-Amaning 14, Thomas 12, Wilcox 11, Suggs 8, Gant 6, Overton 5, Holiday 4, N'Diaye 4
Rebounds: N'Diaye 11, Bryan-Amaning 8, Ross 6, Gant 6, Thomas 2, Suggs 2, Holiday 1, Overton 1, Wilcox 1
Assists: Thomas 8, Overton 2, Wilcox 2, Gant 2, Bryan-Amaning 1, Holiday 1, N'Diaye 1
Blocks: Bryan-Amaning 1, Ross 1
Steals: Bryan-Amaning 2, Thomas 2, Overton 1, Ross 1