By Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
As a Tar Heel born and Tar Heel bred, I can feel quite out of place here in Wildcat country.
Transplanted here in Wilmore by way of Raleigh, I rarely acknowledge my Carolina roots; for some reason, UK fans have developed a hatred of UNC (we both hate Duke, and isn’t that what really matters?). But as my beloved Heels marched through the NCAA Tournament to the National Championship game, I was ecstatic, especially considering the fact that the game would be shown in the Stuce. My team was earning some respect in the Bluegrass state and I prepared to soak it all in.
Upon arriving for the (oddly specific) 9:19 p.m. tip-off, there are exactly two people in the Stuce in Carolina blue, and one of those was me. That was unimportant to me. I was happy to be watching my team play one last game on the big screen for all the nation to see.
So I enjoyed the moment as best I could. For 39 minutes of game time, I bantered with UK fans, cheered as Joel Berry II put up 15 first-half points, mocked the referees and nearly bit my nails clean off my hands.
But none of the exposé or setting matters here. No one cared where I was or what I was thinking during the game. In fact, no one even cared about the first 19 minutes and 50 seconds of the game itself. All that mattered was the incredible sequence of basketball that unfolded in the ten short seconds that closed the game.
The score is 74-71, with Villanova holding the lead and Carolina holding the ball. Berry breaks Nova’s press to the near sideline and zings a pass through two Wildcats into the waiting hands of Marcus Paige, UNC’s senior leader and late-game maestro. Paige jumps to shoot, lowers the ballot his chest to avoid a Nova defender’s block, then contorts his body and heaves the ball towards the rim from thirty feet away. The desperate, Hail Mary of a shot, slices through the net for three points and Paige coolly saunters to his spot on defense as he’s always done for the past four years.
The few Carolina fans in the Stuce erupted in joyous cheers and high-fives. After all, we had just witnessed the greatest shot in the history of the Final Four. Little did we know that said shot was about to become the second-greatest shot in the history of the Final Four.
Inbound to Nova’s Ryan Arcidiacono. Dribble upcourt. Scoop to Kris Jenkins. Lift. Flick. Net. Buzzer. Confetti. One Shining Moment. Villanova wins, 77-74.
There’s a real sense of heartbreak for me, and I’m only a fan. Coach Roy Williams told the media after the game, “I feel so inadequate. The difference between winning and losing is so small. The difference in your feelings is so large”.
Ol’ Roy is right: this game hurts. For the casual basketball fans who enjoyed the big game in the student center, this was the greatest title game in a generation that they’ll probably stop talking about in two days. But for those of us who watched this team dance and dab their way to the National Championship only to lose that fun in the blink of an eye, this was especially hard. Watching a 65 year-old man and some scruffy college kids cry at a table means nothing to a Kentucky fan. Seeing the pain in Roy’s drawn face while Marcus, Brice and Joel trying to justify four years of falling short means everything to a Carolina fan.
With a heavy heart, I’ll reluctantly let go of Monday’s game and my beloved Heels. This season was still incredibly fun and I’ll cherish this Final Four because I was able to share it in Wilmore with my new favorite college. I’m still a Tar Heel born and a Tar Heel bred, but when I die I’ll be an Asburian dead.