It didn't happen to the No. 2-seeded Hoyas, which is why they are going to the Final Four for the first time since they lost to Villanova in the 1985 championship game after their 96-84 overtime victory in a stirring game at Continental Airlines Arena.
Georgetown will face Ohio State Saturday night in Atlanta.
When their remarkable win was accomplished, each of the Hoyas walked up to former Georgetown coach John Thompson, who was standing behind press row at midcourt. Thompson gave each one of them a hug, reinforcing a connection to the past. It is his son, John Thompson III, who has returned the Hoyas to the glory they enjoyed when they were a dominant program in the 1980s.
"This is an extremely disappointing time for our team," a tearful North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "Congratulations for Georgetown and young John. Young John is like family to me."
But, as Williams later said, young John is doing it his way rather than his father's way. The Georgetown teams of the '80s frequently intimidated their opponents with their size and scowls. This team is remarkably patient and cerebral, and it was the Hoyas' patience and refusal to stray from their structured offense that ultimately buried the favored Tar Heels.
"We just wanted to stick with our stuff because it's been working for us all year," said guard Jessie Sapp, who had 15 points and eight assists.
It would have been easy for Georgetown (30-6) to stray. In the first half, Carolina set the hot pace and took a 50-44 lead at the break. Indeed, the Hoyas were still in the game, but they were trailing despite shooting 59.4 percent and turning the ball over only four times. In other words, they did little wrong, and were still down by six.
The Big East Conference champs still appeared to be in trouble when they were down, 75-65, with little more than seven minutes remaining in regulation. Their shots had stopped dropping. Roy Hibbert, their 7-foot-2 center, was in foul trouble. So was Sapp. It appeared they had hit the same wall that so many other Tar Heels victims had hit.
"It was clear that North Carolina was getting out in transition," Thompson said. "But from the offensive end throughout the game, we felt comfortable that we could get what we wanted."
Georgetown's offense is at its best in the halfcourt game, and that's what the Hoyas turned it into in the second half. They methodically chipped away at the lead, beating the Tar Heels with back-door plays, leaning on their 6-9 star, Jeff Green, who had 22 points and nine rebounds and was voted the region's outstanding player. They also tightened the screws on defense.
And when Jonathan Wallace, a 6-1 junior who was going to play for Thompson at Princeton before following the coach to Georgetown, drained a three-pointer with 31 seconds left in regulation, the arena exploded and the game was tied, 81-81.
"To get a shot to go down like that for us felt pretty good," Wallace said. "It gave us confidence going into overtime."
The Tar Heels had a chance late in regulation, and Wayne Ellington, the freshman from Episcopal Academy, had an open jumper from the wing. But he missed. North Carolina, regarded as the most explosive team in the country, had two field goals in the final 10 minutes of the second half.
"I was wide open and that was just the shot we had," said Ellington, who shot 2 for 11 for five points.
"I'll take that shot any day," Williams said. "Wayne is a good shooter. Nobody hurts more than that youngster."
In overtime, Georgetown simply dominated. Wallace opened it with a back-door layup off a feed from Green, then DaJuan Summers scored off a dunk and Green with a bank shot for an 87-81 lead. The Tar Heels looked stunned and weary as the Hoyas scored the first 12 points. North Carolina missed its first 12 shots in OT and ended 1 for 13. In all, the Tar Heels missed 22 of their final 24 shots.
The last seven minutes of regulation, the Hoyas set the tempo and took a scalpel to Carolina's defense.
"I think it was at that point we were able to slow down their transition a little bit," Thompson said. "We were able to make them try to make tough, contested shots. That's kind of what changed."
On the overtime dominance, Green said, "If we let them get an early start, they would have had the momentum. We had to keep going on offense. We made shots and they didn't."
The Hoyas never showed signs of fatigue and never panicked. They kept making baskets and ended up shooting a blistering 57.6 percent.
In critical condition. More than two dozen family members and friends held a bedside vigil in Hackensack, N.J., yesterday for Jason Ray, the University of North Carolina student who suits up as the school's mascot. Ray was in critical condition after being hit by a sport utility vehicle.
The 21-year-old senior remained on life support two days after he was struck near his hotel in Fort Lee. Ray, who portrays UNC's ram mascot, Rameses, was in New Jersey for the NCAA men's tournament game between the Tar Heels and Southern California at the Continental Airlines Arena.
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo
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This article contains information from the Associated Press