CHAPEL HILL — More than two shots, a pair for each team, decided No. 8 Carolina’s 69-61 loss to No. 4 Virginia on Monday night.
But with them, Tobacco Road got another chapter of “What if?”
Since the 1950s, the nation’s best college basketball league has been laced with them. The elite have long come here to play, and the performances have been breath taking. The outcomes, quite often, are decided by split seconds.
Coby White, the Tar Heels’ sensational freshman point guard, was in both shots for his team. Kyle Guy had the role for Virginia.
As halftime neared with Virginia in possession, the shot clock was going to expire before the halftime horn. The ball got knocked loose, and by the time White had possession and was racing through a thunderous cascade of cheers, the shot clock buzzer had gone off.
White’s layup with two ticks left wasn’t, and the Tar Heels got no points on the inbounds play.
Back and forth they went in the second half, Carolina finally peeling off a 17-3 burst to take a seven-point lead. Virginia was on the ropes, but battled back to tie.
With 3:29 to go, the scored tied at 59, White wound up with a loose ball batted from the goal to near midcourt. As he moved toward the Roy Williams signature in front of the Carolina bench, the shot clock neared zero and everybody hollered, “Shoot!”
He did, it went in and more than 21,000 were in delirious bedlam.
Briefly. Replay review wiped it out.
Virginia then turned to their Guy. The Cavs finished a 21-6 kick by allowing Carolina just one more bucket while forcing two of their eight turnovers. Guy’s 3-pointers 47 seconds apart in the final two minutes were the dagger.
“When he slung it, if that ball goes in, that would have been a pretty big play in the game,” Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “A split second at halftime would have been a big play.
“But Guy made two big plays for them. Got to give them a lot of credit.”
Virginia’s Tony Bennett had feared the worst.
“The 3 that didn’t count, that was huge,” he said. “I thought it counted. But they said it was on his fingertip.”
And Virginia, as top five teams do, capitalized.
The Cavaliers are 82-19 in the ACC dating back to 2013-14, far and away the league’s best even while Carolina and Duke have won national titles. Bennett’s way has a defensive backbone like few possess and, though less heralded, is predicated on offensive efficiency.
With turnovers uncharacteristically marring their last three-plus games, Bennett said he “barked” at his team in a second-half time out.
“I told ’em enough is enough,” he said.
And for the final 12 minutes, the Cavs played clean. Virginia, beaten at home by No. 2 Duke two nights earlier, rose up to look like the Final Four contender it has been all season.
“Our guys knew what we had to do,” Bennett said. “It wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about getting back to what we had to do.
“Our guys understood that it was going to take a high level performance. They were locked in.”
And yet split seconds away, perhaps, from back-to-back losses.
On Tobacco Road, that can be an eternity.
North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks (15) and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter (12) reach for a rebound during the first half Monday.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alanwooten19.