That moment was happening, and all I wanted to do was stop it and never let it go. I wanted to freeze time and never let it end.
I looked across the court at the Ohio fan section, mesmerized by the sheer passion I could feel 50 feet away. These people in green had grown louder and louder after each three-pointer in the second half, and this trey from Nick Kellogg with less than five minutes remaining sent them into a frenzy. It was that moment when you look at the scoreboard just to make sure your eyes aren't tricking you, that you aren't just imaging things. It was that moment when the dream wasn't a dream anymore. It was really happening.
Ohio was really beating North Carolina.
The game continued at the other end of the floor, but I couldn't concentrate on basketball right now. Basketball? That's not what this moment was about. This moment was about revenge, revolt, inequality and injustice. There was an unexplainable power to this moment, something the human mind can't really comprehend because of the effect the moment had on so many people in so many different places. And the fact that I witnessed this moment with my own two eyes, from a spot on press row about 10 feet away, that is why I couldn't concentrate on basketball. I felt like I had just seen the culmination of hours and hours and hours and hours of a team and its coaching staff working toward a dream, a dream that probably felt unattainable until, well, that moment.
The Bobcats weren't just playing for a trip to the Elite Eight. They were playing for all of us. They were playing for those thousands of fans in green, sure, but also for the entire city of Athens, Ohio. For the student body at Ohio University and every Bobcat supporter in that state sick of taking a back seat to Ohio State. They were the only team remaining in the NCAA Tournament under the Red Line, so they were playing for Our Game, too. They were playing for everybody who's ever been wronged by money, greed and power. They were playing against the team that once included Michael Jordan, the team that finds it strange not to play in the Sweet 16.
And with less than five minutes remaining, Nick Kellogg swishes this three-pointer. That moment was happening, and nobody was quite sure how long it was going to last. So for the next five minutes, everybody in the building not wearing Carolina blue savored each moment. The Bobcats were fighting for each and every one of us. By the time the five minutes were up, they had forced another five minutes. Overtime. Coach John Groce claps his hands and stomps around the court as the buzzer sounds, encouraging his team to fight for just a few more minutes. This moment was really happening, and with each passing second, it was less and less a dream and more and more a reality.
But this game will hurt you. We all know that. For all the Bryce Drew moments, there are a million of these moments when the dream slips away. On the first possession of overtime, a McDonald's All-American drains a three-pointer. And on the next possession, another McDonald's All-American makes a jumper. One of the other McDonald's All-Americans grabs his 20th rebound. The players have names, but they are inconsequential in this setting. You'll learn about them in a year or two, when they play for the Houston Rockets or the Dallas Mavericks or the Los Angeles Clippers, when they make the All-Star Game and see their faces splattered all over billboards on the interstate.
For 40 minutes, the Bobcats pretended like that didn't matter. Like it didn't matter how large North Carolina's recruiting budget was, like it didn't matter that Roy Williams can essentially have any player he wants in the United States without even trying. Ohio had worked against the system for a little bit, but the dream is slipping away now and everybody can feel it.
Ohio makes zero field goals in overtime. It unravels, like a team from the Mid-American Conference is supposed to against one of the elite programs in college basketball. The Bobcats begin turning the ball over, throwing the ball out of bounds and dropping their heads.
The buzzer sounds, marking that moment when the dream really, officially slips away. There will be no magical run to the Elite Eight, no magical victory for the ages over Michael Jordan's old team. They won't talk about the Ohio Bobcats for years to come, and they won't reminisce about how fast those guards were or how many times they made North Carolina look silly handling the basketball. They'll remember Ohio for a few years until it slips into obscurity again, behind Ohio State, the Big Ten and the rest of major college basketball.
Ohio will just be another story buried in the record books. And as for that moment when it was really happening, when Ohio was really beating North Carolina?
As the years pass, that will fade, too, because like all moments, they never last.
NORTH CAROLINA 73, OHIO 65 03/23/2012
OHIO 29-8 (11-5) -- D. Cooper 3-20 3-3 10; W. Offutt 10-18 0-1 26; N. Kellogg 4-5 2-2 14; I. Baltic 2-10 0-0 4; R. Keely 2-7 2-2 6; J. Smith 0-2 0-0 0; T. Hall 2-7 0-0 5; R. Johnson 0-1 0-0 0; S. Taylor 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-71 7-8 65. NORTH CAROLINA 32-5 (14-2) -- R. Bullock 6-13 0-0 17; H. Barnes 3-16 4-6 12; T. Zeller 8-14 4-7 20; J. Henson 6-12 2-6 14; S. White 0-4 2-2 2; J. Watts 0-0 0-0 0; J. McAdoo 2-2 2-3 6; P. Hairston 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 26-65 14-24 73.
Three-point goals: OHIO 12-32 (W. Offutt 6-10; I. Baltic 0-1; D. Cooper 1-10; T. Hall 1-4; R. Johnson 0-1; N. Kellogg 4-5; S. Taylor 0-1), UNC 7-22 (R. Bullock 5-10; H. Barnes 2-9; S. White 0-1; P. Hairston 0-2); Rebounds: OHIO 26 (N. Kellogg 8), UNC 56 (T. Zeller 22); Assists: OHIO 17 (D. Cooper 6), UNC 18 (S. White 6); Total Fouls -- OHIO 22, UNC 13; Fouled Out: OHIO-W. Offutt; UNC-None.