SAN ANTONIO -- DeAndre Kane was off to the side praying to himself.
Georges Niang could feel his heart about to beat through his chest.
And Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg couldn’t stop worrying all that might go wrong if officials put even a sliver of time back on the clock for North Carolina to attempt one final shot.
Instead, after several minutes when nobody at AT&T Center dared more than whisper, officials finally called the game, sending the Tar Heels home, the Cyclones to the Sweet 16 and Kane to the March Madness pantheon of heroic, game-winning baskets.
“To have it end like that,” North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo said, “it’s heartbreaking.”
Sunday evening in the East Region, it ended like this: after McAdoo swished two free throws to tie the game, Kane drove the floor, sliced through two Tar Heels defenders and banked in a layup off the glass with 1.6 seconds remaining to put the Cyclones up two.
North Carolina’s Nate Britt raced the ball back past half court, and called timeout after seeing he still had a second or so left for the Tar Heels to attempt a desperation shot. But it was only a mirage. The operator had started the clock a second too slow. And after reviewing replay for what seemed like an eternity to anyone donning cardinal and gold or Carolina blue, the officials concluded the game was over.
Third-seeded Iowa State 85. Sixth-seeded North Carolina 83.
“I was definitely praying that they'd call the game,” said Kane, who carried the Cyclones back from an eight-point deficit in the final four minutes with a series of tenacious plays, including the game-winner.
Hoiberg, who is taking Iowa State to Madison Square Garden and the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 when he was still a guard for the Chicago Bulls, wasn’t so sure they would.
“The last sequence, I was nervous,” said Hoiberg, whose team was bounced from the third round of the tournament last year on a buzzer-beating shot from Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. “I didn't know if they were going to get the ball over half court where they've got so many guys that can go and jump a lot higher than our guys. You worry about a lob play. They run a very good elevator play. They ran it against North Carolina State at the end and ran through a gap to get them a shot. Those were the things I was envisioning in my head.”
Then the officials called both him and North Carolina coach Roy Williams to the scorer’s table and revealed time had in fact run out on the Tar Heels’ tumultuous season.
Williams instantly gave Hoiberg, his friend and rival from coaching against Hoiberg as a player from the old Big Eight, a congratulatory hug.
Niang, who had broken his right foot in Iowa State’s second round game Friday, jumped off the bench onto his left foot.
And Kane, who was sensational down the stretch, threw both arms in the air and let out a gigantic smile before rejoining his teammates to celebrate Iowa State’s biggest win-or-go-home victory of this millennium.
“Kane hit an unbelievable shot, and when you think you have an opportunity at the end and realize the time went out and you don't have the opportunity, it's tough,” McDonald said. “You're hoping that you're going to have that opportunity, but you don't. It hit us hard.”
Before the final sequence, both teams spent the game hitting each other hard.
Even without Niang, their third-leading scorer and tallest starter, the Cyclones jumped out to a nine-point lead in the first half.
Iowa State seemed poised to put the game away, especially after UNC forward Brice Johnson had to leave the game for good with a sprained ankle. But as they did after losing P.J. Hairston and their first three ACC games, the Tar Heels battled back. And with Paige finding his stroke from the outside and Kennedy Meeks dominating the paint, the Tar Heels led 76-68 going into the last four minutes.
But Iowa State never panicked. And then, the Cyclones counterpunched.
“It was a heck of a basketball game,” said Williams, who failed to take North Carolina out of the NCAA tournament's opening weekend in consecutive seasons for the first time. “If you didn't care who won the game, you had to be entertained.”
Kane, however, wasn’t done. And during McAdoo’s final free throws, Hoiberg dialed up a play for his point guard, who weaved his way down the floor before splitting the defense down the lane for the acrobatic basket, scoring the last of his game-high 24 points.
After Britt’s timeout, McAdoo and Paige and McDonald stood silent, hoping they’d get their own chance at a March miracle that wouldn’t be coming.
“We were prepared to finish the game out,” Kane said. “But it was great they called it.”