UNC’s buzzer-beater shows harsh reality of March

North Carolina Tar Heels forward Luke Maye shoots the game winning three pointer against the Kentucky Wildcats during the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament South Regional Elite 8 at FedExForum in Memphis, TN on Friday March 24, 2017. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff

Anthony Crawford

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The brutality of March and the NCAA Tournament can be seen best in the forgotten shots.

The shots that fall only to be outdone by an opponent.

The shots like Malik Monk’s three-pointer that tied the game with nine seconds left to play, only to be wiped away by the heroics of Luke Maye as his shot with 0.3 seconds remaining lifted the Tar Heels over UK in the 75-73 UNC win.

 “I don’t feel nothing,” Monk said following the crushing loss in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. “Horrible. It doesn’t mean nothing. My shots mean nothing because we didn’t win.”

It’s too easy to just disregard the three to tie the game and the one made by Monk 30 seconds prior to bring UK within one.

Yes, with all things considered, they eventually amounted to nothing in UK’s favor and weren’t enough to prevent UK’s abrupt end. But throwing those shots away, which only added to that greatness of the game, would be throwing away the effort and fight that turned the season around for this team. 

“We know we had a great season and we had a chance to win this game, but came up short,” UK freshman De’Aaron Fox said. “With that said, I love my team, my brother. This is family. People didn’t think we would come together, just because of all of what we did in high school or whatever, but we came together and grew into a family. And had a great season.” 

This team was down and nearly out mid-way through after reeling off losses to Tennessee, Kansas and Florida. But something started to click and the latter ended up being the Cats last loss until Sunday. 

UK dropped it flash on the fast breaks and traded it for a scrappy defense that almost led UK to the Final Four, despite having one of the tougher roads in the tournament.

The Cats won 14 straight games before falling to the Tar Heels, a team in their own right that knows all too well about forgotten shots.

North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige hit a double-clutch three in the national championship against Villanova last season, only for it to be forgotten when Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beating shot for the win. 

This time UNC was on the better side of a classic finish. UK wasn’t so favorable but this season shouldn’t be tossed aside because of it.

This season matters because of the fight the team showed and the players that stepped up. Monk became more than just a scorer. Fox became a leader. Seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis became key cogs and rallying points for the team since the rough patch midseason.

The players and fans have a right to be upset, but the truth is in the tournament there has to be a loser, no matter how great both teams are. Monk’s shot may mean less but UK’s season doesn’t.

“It’s difficult,” Fox said. “I just love my team. I love this program. It’s just difficult losing like that, especially after we got this far. We didn’t want to lose this game, but it’s over and all we can do now is reminisce on this season.”