The agony of defeat: A student's view of North Carolina's national title game heartbreaker

North Carolina will eventually move on from its national championship loss to Villanova, but it's not easy for the Tar Heels.
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Theo Pinson sat in his locker, a towel draped around his head, eyes wide open, staring at the ground. The defeat was sinking in. It surely sank in as soon as Villanova's Kris Jenkins hit the buzzer beater to win the national title. But now, as the media filed in with recorders in hand and questions in mind, it was hitting him.

Pinson is my age. We're both sophomores in college. I've spent the better part of 40 games asking him questions as he sat in a locker.

I knelt beside him and he looked at me. His usual grin was nowhere to be found.

"Theo, look man, I get it if you don't want to talk."

He shakes his head. He doesn't want to talk, and I don't either. I get it.

"I'm just going to remember how much fun this team had together. That's it, man."

Pinson didn't want to talk, but he couldn't help it. The memories were rushing back. The ACC championship over Virginia. The win against Duke in Cameron Indoor. The highs and lows that got the Tar Heels to a tie game with 4.7 seconds left in the national championship. So the words just slipped out of his mouth.

And how Pinson feels is how I feel. I don't want to talk about it, but I can't help it.


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In 2014, UNC blew a lead and lost to Iowa State in the Round of 32. I sat down and wrote something, because it was my instinct. For some reason, it just felt right. I talked about how much it hurt to watch a team you loved come so far and lose.

Now it's two years later. This time, I was with the players through the whole ride as a reporter. I saw the locker room jubilation. I saw the dancing and laughter behind the scenes. I saw the brotherhood they formed.

And that's when it sinks in. When a team is more than a team. They're a family. They're brothers. It's deep stuff and it's powerful.

Reporting on this team means I need to do my best to keep my feelings out of it. Occasionally I've found myself dancing when "Jump Around" starts blaring at the Smith Center. Now and then I have to sit on my hands when Brice Johnson gave the crowd a reason to stand up with one of his bullish dunks. I'm still a North Carolina native born and raised by two Tar Heel parents.

I'm a student just as much as I am a reporter, if not more. I, too, feel pain. I, too, feel grief for those boys, you know? Nobody wants to walk in that locker room and ask a teary-eyed Joel James a question. He's played his last game as a Tar Heel and there's nothing I can write that's going to comfort him.

So now I'll move on. And you will, too. And so will Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. And so will Roy Williams. We'll move on. We'll move on because that's what we'll have to do.

Tar Heel fans and students alike will remember this team as 15 players who loved each other, fought for one another, and played in one of the NCAA tournament's greatest games. We'll remember this team for their dancing and their laughs. We'll remember this team for their personality, not that final dagger of a shot.

Together, we'll move on.

David Allen is SI's campus correspondent for the University of North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter.