It was so close. Some would say too close. But in the end, the Tar Heels came through with a 77-76 win over the Oregon Ducks in the NCAA Final Four to advance to the National Championship.
To the nearly 3,000 fans gathered at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill and Tar Heels around the world, the scare was worth it for another shot at the National Championship – a shot they and the team have been waiting for since last year’s heartbreaking defeat by Villanova with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We left Maryland at 2,” said Marcie Dawson, a fan on her way into the Smith Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the watch party Saturday night.
Students also gathered on Hooker Fields for a big screen showing of the game immediately following the 2 Chainz Jubilee concert. The Phi Beta Chi sorority turned its annual dance into a Final Four-mal, with a big screen TV above the dance floor. And study abroad students in London gathered to cheer on the Heels together.
Carolina law graduate Ashley Green booked seats for the big game in Phoenix on Thursday. It was a family affair and the first in-person game for her two children.
“I want to be here. I want to watch it live and be a part of it,” she said. She was also making up for not being able to celebrate so much for the 2005 championship. “We were law school people!” she explained.
For fans in Chapel Hill, the cheering began on the way to the Smith Center.
On the corner of Skipper Bowles and Manning drives, students headed from their residence halls to the Smith Center challenged each other with the familiar call and response cheer of “Tar” “Heels.”
Like their counterparts in Phoenix, the fans in the Smith Center roared when the Heels were introduced, clapped for great rebounds and held up their arms to “help” free throws go in the basket.
With 5.8 seconds to go in the game, the crowd stood up, nervously waiting for the ending.
And when the game came to its nail-biting finish, they jumped up and down in place, hugged one another and paused only long enough to sing the Alma Mater before racing to celebrate on Franklin Street.
As Chancellor Carol L. Folt tweeted just after the game, “Best Daggum Day To Be A Tar Heel!”
The Tar Heels will play Gonzaga on Monday night.
Read more about the game at GoHeels.com.