It was fitting, really.
On a night where No. 11 Providence was absolutely pounded on the offensive glass, it was the fourth chance that the Friars gave No. 6 North Carolina that finally did them in.
With the game tied at 77, James Michael McAdoo grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul with just 3.5 seconds left. He hit the first free throw but missed the second, grabbing his own rebound and getting fouled again. And again, he hit the first and missed the second, but this time Bryce Cotton booted the ball out of bounds and that was it.
The Tar Heels advanced to face the winner of No. 3 Iowa State and No. 14 North Carolina-Central with a thrilling, 79-77 win over the Friars.
And the bulk of the work was done by the UNC front court. McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson combined for 42 points and 23 boards, 13 of which came on the offensive end of the floor. UNC had 21 offensive rebounds in total and 26 second chance points. Marcus Paige hit a handful of huge shots down the stretch — including a three with a minute left from the top of the key that, you guessed it, came off of an offensive rebound — but if it wasn’t for the work of the front line, UNC would not have been in that position.
The win also means that North Carolina’s fascinatingly weird season will continue for at least one more game. Remember, this is a team that was left for dead twice this season, which just so happened to be sandwiched by wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky.
For Providence, the loss could not have been more heartbreaking. They missed a shot that could have put them ahead with 35 seconds left. They missed a pair of opportunities to get the ball back with a chance to win at the buzzer. And, most importantly, they wasted one of the best performances that you will see all tournament.
Bryce Cotton, the 6-foot star point guard for the Friars, finished with 36 points, eight assists, five boards and at least half-a-dozen dazzling, ankle-breaking buckets during a stretch in the second half when he took over. The Friars were down by as much as 11 in the second before Cotton took over.
The good news? For the first time in his career, Cotton was truly appreciated for the talent that he is. The bad news? It had to happen in the final game of his senior season.