Free Throws, Putting & Clutch Plays

Free Throws, Putting & Clutch Plays

SAN ANTONIO – If you're familiar with Roy Williams and his passion for golf, then it should make sense that he shared his story of a $55,000 six-foot putt in the huddle before James Michael McAdoo stepped to the free throw line with 3.5 seconds left in a tie ball game.

At a Boys and Girls Club charity event years ago in Lawrence, Kan., Williams stepped over a downhill, six-foot putt with a right-to-left break. Before he started his swing, however, someone added significant drama to the situation with one sentence: "If you make this putt, we win $55,000."

With No. 6 seed North Carolina's NCAA Tournament life at stake on the outskirts of San Antonio, that's the tale that Williams told McAdoo as the junior forward, a 53.7 percent free throw shooter on the season, anxiously waited during a timeout.

"If somebody would have told me that I would be at the free throw line with the game tied, I wouldn't have thought that would be the case," McAdoo told reporters in a boisterous Tar Heel locker room following UNC's 79-77 win over Providence. "But at the end of the day, this is what it's all about, stepping up with an opportunity like that with my teammates all watching me and having my back.

"And then Coach cracking jokes in the huddle before I go up there; that's always funny."

When the whistle blew for play to begin, McAdoo did what his teammates had done over the final 4:34 – he made a play.

"I knew I was going to hit one of them," McAdoo said. "I had to with all of those people watching; it's March Madness. I really just wanted to hit the first one, to be honest with you, and get that weight of the world off my shoulders."

McAdoo made the first to give UNC a 78-77 lead. When the second attempt bounced hard off the rim, McAdoo slid into position and secured the offensive rebound before being fouled again with 1.7 seconds left to play.

There was never a discussion about intentionally missing one of the next two charity attempts, even though a miss would likely force a 90-foot shot as the Friars were out of timeouts.

"Coach is all about making the free throws," sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto said. "His plan was for James Michael to knock down both free throws the first time and then we're going to call a timeout and get our defense set."

McAdoo rinsed and repeated, knocking down the first and missing the second. Once again, UNC regained possession and was able to run out the clock to advance to the round of 32.

Despite enduring criticism all season long for his struggles at the free throw line, McAdoo connected when it counted. He stressed during his postgame interview, however, that he wasn't solely responsible for winning the game.

Despite leading 54-45 with 13:04 to play, UNC found itself down seven with 4:34 to play, due in large part to Bryce Cotton's 36-point blitzkrieg.

The Tar Heels answered in short order, scoring seven points on their next three possessions to tie the game at 71-71. There was Brice Johnson's offensive rebound and putback. There was Tokoto's driving circus shot and corresponding free throw. And then there was a pair of Marcus Paige 3-pointers, one to tie the game with 3:01 left and the other to tie the game with 1:06 left.

"We made winning plays down the stretch," Tokoto said.

After securing a critical defensive rebound with 37 seconds remaining and the score knotted at 77-77, Johnson took the potential game-winner with five seconds remaining. He missed, but McAdoo was there for the offensive rebound, setting in motion his free throw theatrics.

Not, however, before Williams got a chance to share his golf story.

"I said, ‘two free throws, my gosh, that's easy compared to making a putt for $55,000,'" Williams told reporters following the game. "I was basically just trying to get him to stop thinking about it so much."

He stopped short of confirming that he actually made the putt, which prompted the inevitable follow-up question.

"I did make the putt and we won $55,000," Williams said. "You think I'd tell the story if I missed the sucker?"

 

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