Talk about one giant nutshell.
With one play late in North Carolina’s 62-58 loss to Georgia Tech Thursday night, the Tar Heels’ season was summarized perfectly.
Trailing by four with 1:30 left in the game, point guard Larry Drew tossed a soft pass across the perimeter, which was intercepted by Tech’s De’Andre Bell.
As Bell sprinted toward the opposite basket, he was stopped only by a foul on Drew.
Nevermind that for 38 minutes, Drew had reversed the fortunes of a forgettable 2009-10 season.
At one point in the game, the maligned sophomore had seven assists and only two turnovers. He finished with eight assists, and five turnovers, none more devastating than the pass to Bell.
The game had much more buzz than many would have thought halfway through, when Carolina led 34-24 at the break.
Bodies were hitting the floor. Runaway Tar Heels dove for loose balls and deflected passes left and right, creating a scene unfamiliar to anyone who followed the team this season. Most of the time, the hustling culprit was 7’1’’ sophomore Tyler Zeller.
Zeller played the best game of his career, bar none. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
On the other side, however, Zeller and the Heels had no answer for Jackets’ freshman sensation Derrick Favors. Favors hit his first seven shots en route to 18 points while also adding nine rebounds.
He dominated in the post. He blew by defenders off the dribble. When it was all said and done, Favors left little doubt that he should be a top-five pick in June’s NBA draft. His blocked shot on a Zeller fast break lay-up attempt helped thwart a late push by the Heels.
Meanwhile, Gani Lawal manhandled Deon Thompson, frequently beating the senior Tar Heel to rebounds on both ends of the floor, and taking the ball right at Thompson’s chin with the ball in the paint.
Lawal and Favors exposed Carolina’s big men for what they are – long, athletic, but weak.
Both teams received performances from their backcourts that can only be described as shaky at best.
Will Graves obliterated Carolina’s hopes with a one-for-eight mark from three-point range. Most of those shots were open looks that were simply off the mark.
In limited minutes, freshmen Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald provided much more consistent play than Graves. At the very least, the rookies played energetic defense, something Graves has never been known to do.
The Yellow Jackets saw guards Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice, Jr. make an equal number of outstanding plays as awful ones. Both players hit big shots during the early second-half comeback, but they both forced several shots at inopportune moments late in the game.
Even after Tech erased the double-digit halftime deficit, Carolina hung tough until the end.
It all came back to that Drew turnover and subsequent foul. High hopes thanks to an outstanding first half were unfulfilled, in similar fashion to the entire season. With a late glimmer of glory seemed within reach, a lazy, ill-advised, poorly timed turnover effectively ended the game, as it did the season.