Miracle finish wasn’t in the cards for panicky Tar Heels

UNC got the steal it needed in the final seconds of Saturday's game against NC State, but turned the ball back over before it could take advantage of the break

UNC's Theo Pinson reacts after his team's final attempt at a comeback fell short against NC State on Saturday (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

CHAPEL HILL — Down by two with 6.6 seconds remaining in overtime, the North Carolina basketball team was in need of a miracle against rival NC State on Saturday.

And the Tar Heels nearly got one when Kenny Williams knocked the ball loose from the Wolfpack’s Torin Dorn on an inbounds pass under the UNC basket. The ball ended up in the hands of freshman Sterling Manley for a turnover that gave the Tar Heels momentary hope for winning or extending a game.

But the opportunity was fleeting.

UNC’s hope quickly turned into despair when Manley turned the ball right back over to State. Markell Johnson then made two final free throws to seal the Wolfpack’s 95-91 victory at Smith Center.

“We were trying to get a steal, I gambled a little bit and we came away with it,” said Williams, who appeared to bump Dorn with his shoulder when he made his play for the ball. “Sterling was falling out of bounds. He did everything he could. He tried to keep the ball in play. It just so happened that none of us went to get it.”

Manley played only five minutes in the game and was inserted into the lineup just before the final play in hopes his 6-foot-11 body would disrupt the inbounds pass.

He found himself in the right place at the right time when the ball popped into his hands on the sideline right in front of the Tar Heels’ bench.

Although there was still plenty of time to call timeout or look for an open teammate — both Theo Pinson and Joel Berry were left all alone under the basket — the young big man left his feet and wildly threw the ball back toward midcourt in the direction of teammate Luke Maye.

Johnson intercepted the pass, though, ending UNC’s comeback hopes.

“He’s a freshman and he panicked,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said of Manley. “That’s on me, not on him.”

Williams wasn’t the only one consoling Manley afterward.

“I went and told him not to worry about it. Don’t dwell on it and let it take over your whole life,” Kenny Williams said. “Learn from it. At the end of the day, that’s all we can do. That was the first time he had been in that situation, so all he can do is learn.”

The Wolfpack, meanwhile, came away from the close call breathing a sigh of relief that it didn’t let an emotional victory against a hated rival slip away under what would have been the most painful of circumstances.

As it is, State came away with its first win against a top-10 UNC team since 2007.

“It was such a tough battle,” Wolfpack big man Omer Yurtseven said. “But I’m just proud of my teammates and coaches to just hang in there and push it through.”

While State continues to gain confidence and build a resume that keeps getting stronger with each passing week, the Tar Heels suddenly find themselves in the throes of a two-game losing streak with a tough road game at Clemson coming up on Tuesday.

“We don’t have time for a pity party,” said Pinson, who posted career highs of 22 points and 15 rebounds in Saturday’s losing effort. “We have to get ready for Tuesday against Clemson, who is going to be ready for us. We beat them here and they’re going to want to protect their home court. We have to get back (to practice) and get better.”