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UNC (31-7) led most of the way and by as many as 10 points late in the second half. But the Tar Heels could never put the game out of reach and were unable to foul out Georgetown 7-2 center Roy Hibbert, as five of its players scored in double figures.
Trailing 75-65, the Hoyas (30-6) outscored Carolina 31-9 over the final 11:02 – including a 15-2 advantage in the extra period. UNC made only two field goals the rest of the way, as John Thompson III led the Hoyas to their first Final Four within four days of the 25th anniversary of Carolina's 1982 NCAA championship win over his father's Georgetown team.
"When you think about the whole Georgetown thing, you think of Coach John Thompson Junior," said Jeff Green, who led the Hoyas with 22 points. "He's brought this program through a lot. For us to do this and him still be around to watch us play is an honor."
Deon Thompson's 14 points and six rebounds in 21 relief minutes were keys, as Carolina went straight at Georgetown's big men early and often. Several times UNC had possession down the stretch needing just one field goal to effectively put the game out of reach. But the inside well went dry, and Danny Green, Reyshawn Terry and Wayne Ellington all missed three-point attempts in crunch time.
Still, after Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace knotted the game at 81 apiece with 32 seconds left in regulation, the Tar Heels got one more chance to win it. Ty Lawson ran the clock down to nine seconds and then started the offense. A screen was set for Ellington on the wing and he got a good look. UNC ran the play Williams drew up to perfection, but Ellington's shot bounced off the rim into the waiting arms of Patrick Ewing Jr., with 1.4 seconds showing on the clock.
From that point on, momentum had switched teams and never visited the Tar Heels again.
"Life doesn't always go like you want to," Roy Williams said from the media press room while Georgetown players were cutting down the Continental Airlines Arena nets. "It's never as sweet as you think it could possibly be. I told my youngsters they have to be able to handle this extremely difficult time."
The loss snapped a run of regional final victories for the Tar Heels, who last lost in a regional final in 1988.
"We didn't make enough shots in the second half ourselves, and they continued playing really, really well," Williams said. "But Georgetown was the best No. 2 seed and in fact you could make a case they were playing as good basketball as anybody in the country."