SAN ANTONIO (AP) — North Carolina had 1.6 seconds to score and avoid another early NCAA tournament exit, but instead spent that precious time trying to call timeout.
A fittingly frustrating end to a frustrating Tar Heels season.
With coach Roy Williams jumping and gesticulating for a timeout, the No. 6 seed Tar Heels inbounded the ball to Nate Britt who dribbled past midcourt as time expired, ousting them in the third round for a second consecutive season in a 85-83 loss to Iowa State on Sunday.
Officials huddled for several minutes reviewing the clock on replays before confirming that the game was over. Williams — who collapsed his hands on his knees as Britt surged toward him — then shook Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg’s hand as North Carolina began absorbing the heartbreaker.
“We made some mistakes. We practice all the time that situation for five guys to be calling timeout, and I’m supposed to be calling timeout, and I was calling timeout,” Williams said. “Referees didn’t recognize it. We practice those scenarios, so we made mistakes. ”
Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane did exactly as his coach had instructed, driving for a layup with 1.6 seconds left that gave the Cyclones the lead. His twisting shot put Iowa State in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000.
“He’s been our Mariano Rivera. He’s been our closer all throughout this season,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Now the No. 3 seed Cyclones (28-7) are headed to the home of the former Yankees star, New York City, where they will play No. 7 seed Connecticut in the East Regional semifinals next week.
The No. 6 seed Tar Heels (24-10) are gone in the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend for the first time in consecutive seasons under Williams, who choked back tears following the end of his 10th season in Chapel Hill.
“Let’s not anybody lay it on the officials or anything like that. We didn’t call the timeout with 1.6 seconds to play,” Williams said.
Britt said he thought North Carolina got the timeout before the buzzer.
“When I looked up at the clock I saw one-point-something time left,” he said. “I saw staff screaming and trying to call timeout.”
Kane finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds. It was just the kind of big game the Cyclones needed without forward Georges Niang, who broke his foot in Friday’s win against North Carolina Central. The 6-foot-7 sophomore sat on the bench wearing a bulky boot while the Cyclones tried their best without their third-leading scorer and tallest starter.
Kane said the last possession called for him to attack the basket, unless North Carolina defenders swarmed him as he penetrated.
“But nobody helped, and I made an acrobatic shot and it went in,” Kane said.
Marcus Paige led North Carolina with 19 points and Kennedy Meeks had 15 points and 13 rebounds. But North Carolina played nearly the entire game without forward Brice Johnson, who sprained ankle in the opening minutes.
The team said X-rays were negative, but the Tar Heels’ third-leading scorer never returned.
The Tar Heels crave a fast pace, and — after dealing with the grind-it-out style of recent opponents — Williams and Paige had spoken of relishing the chance to finally hit the gas against the similarly up-tempo Cyclones.
But this was no track meet.
Undersized Iowa State bottled up the Tar Heels before they could run and bombarded them with 3-pointers (12 of 26) instead of quick baskets. The first dunk came from Kane, not the high-flying Tar Heels, and not until 12 minutes into the game after a handful of bungled North Carolina fast breaks.
Niang’s injury left Hoiberg with a tough choice: go small with his best remaining five or a put a little-used big man in place of his star sophomore. He opted for size over another shooter, giving 6-foot-8 forward Daniel Edozie his first career start.
Edozie missed the only two shots he tried and grabbed four rebounds. But Johnson’s bum ankle reduced North Carolina’s size advantage.
Johnson, who came in averaging 10.6 points and is the Tar Heels’ second-leading rebounder, tumbled to the floor with North Carolina up 12-7. He sat on the bench before hobbling to the locker room.
Coincidental or not, the Cyclones got hot the moment Johnson left the game.
They shook off a 1-for-10 start from the floor and erased a seven-point deficit in less than 1 ½ minutes. After that, neither team led by more than single digits.
“Once Georges got injured people didn’t think that we had enough to pull out this win,” forward Dustin Hogue said. “This goes to show that we have depth and we have heart. With enough heart you can beat anybody.”