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Off the cuff: Win or lose, I think most Carolina fans were ready for this season to end. It was frustrating throughout and the NIT championship game was no different. Wild turnovers, missed free throws, scoring droughts, allowing open threes, being outhustled for loose balls - this game had it all.

That being said, the Tar Heels - showing character - did put together a nice run to end the season and they did fight back in recent games, including this one during the first few minutes of the second half.

Coach Williams said the Tar Heels started playing harder once they reached the NIT. Which seems strange in that Carolina was disappointed about not being n the NCAA tourney. In fact, it was obvious that an NIT championship meant more to Dayton than it would have to UNC. Now, Carolina would have felt a great relief, a great burden lifted off them here in the 100th anniversary year of UNC basketball, had they won. But it was clearly disappointing to the Heels to be there and it was clearly a joy for Dayton to be there.

It was a fast-paced game - too many three-point attempts for my taste. Wild games like this make it hard on officials and indeed the officiating was not particularly good. One of my beefs all year has been the lack of three-second violations. I mean, get rid of the rule if you aren't going to call it or amend it to five seconds or something. It's just a charade.

On a key possession in the second half, with the Heels down just 62-59, the Flyers' Kurt Huelsman twice (on the same possession mind you) was in the lane for much more than three seconds, including one time when he actually had the ball so officials were looking at him. The first time Huelsman was in the lane for a full nine seconds - check it out on your DVR starting at the 6:44 mark. The second time, after getting out of the lane for only one second, he was in the lane for five seconds. That's 14 out of 15 seconds he was in the lane. And what happened on that possession? Chris Johnson hit a three to up the margin to six and the Tar Heels never got it closer than four the rest of the way.

I wish the officials during my junior high years had been as forgiving. I came into one game to spell foul-plagued starter Jeffrey Battle, who went on to star at Memphis State, with two seconds left in the first half. The official called me for three seconds.

That's kinda like the luck Carolina had this season. But, when it comes down to it, the Tar Heels just could not get the ball in the basket consistently. They've got guys coming in next year who should be able to help with that. If Zeller stays healthy and Ed Davis comes back, with the experience the underclassmen got this season, next year should help erase the frustration of this season. It could be a special year.


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Dayton 79, Tar Heels 68 (NIT Final)
Frustrating end to a frustrating season

North Carolina, playing in perhaps the final NIT game, fell behind by 13 at the half and, despite cutting the lead to two on four occasions in the second half, couldn't get over the hump and lost to Dayton 79-68. (4/1)

The game was lost during the last eight minutes of the first half. With the score tied at 28, Dayton went on a 17-4 run, highlighted by three threes by the Flyers' Marcus Williams, including one from beyond the NBA line.

The Tar Heels stormed out of the lockerroom to go on 12-1 run of their own to cut the margin to two at 46-44. A pair of threes by Will Graves and a pair of dunks by John Henson highlighted that run.

But Johnson came right back to drill a three for Dayton for a five-point cushion. Carolina got it back down to two at 51-49 on an old-fashioned three-point play by Deon Thompson. Dayton pushed back again with five straight points.

A pair of Graves' free throws got it back down to two at 56-54 with less than 10 minutes to play but once again Johnson drained a three to keep Carolina at bay.

A Graves three-pointer from the right corner cut it to two once more at 59-57 with 8:44 to go. But this time things fell apart for the Heels. Marcus Ginyard missed a layup that would have tied it and Johnson hit another open three.

Carolina trailed only 62-59 at the next-to-last TV time but Chris Johnson hit yet another three. Then Larry Drew II threw it away on an alley-oop attempt, Zeller threw up a long, low-percentage jump hook, and Drew turned it over again on a wild upcourt pass.

Graves kept the Tar Heels within range with a pair of long threes and the Heels trailed by only five at 73-68 with 1:10 to go. But Dayton easily broke Carolina's press that ended with a Chris Johnson layup and it was all but over. Free throws provided the misleading 11-point final margin.

Coach Roy Williams took out seniors Marcus Ginyard and then Deon Thompson with 16 seconds left. Thompson played in his 152nd game, a record for a collegiate player.

Dayton's hot shooting and tough defense in the first half was the difference. Coach Williams said that the Flyers had more enthusiasm and intensity in the first half but he was proud his team came back at the start of the second half - the team just could not get over the hump.

Williams said his team's NIT run was a nice one but... "No disrespect to the NIT," he said, "But my dreams and goals are not to play in the NIT." Still, he said the last few games were "extremely important" for seniors Thompson and Ginyard to end their careers with a better feeling and for the young guys to show them how they could play.

The Tar Heels, led by Graves' career-high 25 points, finished 20-17 while Dayton, led by Marcus Johnson's 20 points, finished 25-12.



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