CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- An inch or two to the left, and
But that's not how it happened. Ellington did come off that screen. He did have an open look from the right wing. The shot felt perfect when it left his hands. But it thudded off the back iron. The horn blared. North Carolina -- which had gagged away an 11-point halftime lead -- went to overtime against Georgetown, and the Hoyas seized the moment. They went to the Final Four, leaving the young Tar Heels to wonder how they wound up at home in Chapel Hill instead of at the Georgia Dome playing Ohio State.
"People had nightmares about it," point guard
Not entirely true, Ellington contends. "I didn't really have nightmares," he said. "But it was definitely something that was on my mind."
The miss at the end of regulation fueled Ellington in the weight room and on the practice court. Every so often, he ran the play for himself again. He swore that if he found himself with another shot to reach the Final Four, he'd be ready. He may get that chance tonight. The top-seeded Tar Heels face third-seeded Louisville in the East Region final. Both teams crave a track meet -- and they'll likely get one -- but after all that up-and-down, the result may hinge on a solitary shooter.
If that's the case, Ellington wants the ball. "Hopefully, the game doesn't come down to [one shot]," Ellington said. "If it does, then I feel a lot more prepared this year."
On smaller stages, Ellington has made that last shot. As a senior at Philadelphia's Episcopal Academy, he swished a pull-up 17-footer with 2.6 seconds remaining to beat rival Neumann-Goretti in a game televised on ESPN2. On Jan. 6, Ellington had his first chance at a buzzer-beater since the Georgetown loss. The Heels trailed, 88-87, with 5.4 seconds remaining in overtime at Clemson. Coming out of a timeout, the Heels inbounded to Lawson, who dribbled twice and fired the ball to Ellington, who had floated out to the left wing. Ellington elevated. His shot barely cleared the fingertips of charging Clemson forward
"The rim," he said. "That's all I saw."
All the great shooters say that. And that's all Ellington saw against Georgetown, but the shot didn't fall. If it had, it likely would have gone down as one of the top five NCAA Tournament buzzer-beaters of the past 30 years because of the circumstances and because of the pedigrees of the two teams involved. Because it wasn't for a national title, it likely wouldn't have surpassed
Ellington isn't worried about his highlight reel legacy, though. He wants to be remembered only as a member of national championship team. Ellington's teammates would love to see him get another crack at an Elite Eight buzzer-beater, but most are more worried about the ball going through the net than the identity of the shooter.
"I would love for anybody to take that shot --
Still, Lawson said that if the Heels have one shot to make the Final Four, he hopes he gets the assist. If Ellington is open, Lawson intends to find him.
"If it comes down to that moment, that's the person I'm looking for," Lawson said. "I know he's going to knock it down."