EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The shot missed, and the coach cried. That's how these stories go. The coach, wiping his eyes, would note that he'd always told his players life wasn't fair. But who's to say?
Mark Macon, who took that errant shot, got his chance to make a statement yesterday and pretty much made it in capital letters with lots of exclamation points and most of your other standard punctuation marks.
Isn't that enough?
I mean, how fair does life have to be?
Temple, for which Macon plays and the weeping John Chaney coaches, was eliminated by North Carolina yesterday from the NCAA tournament in the East Regional final, 75-72, when Macon's last-second three-pointer fell just short.
That top-seeded Carolina should beat 10th-seeded Temple was neither fair nor unfair, but it was expected, meaning the Tar Heels advance to the Final Four for the first time in recent memory.
Less certain was how Macon might fare. For the record, he was great. In fact, he had the day of his life. No one will ever again have to mention that 6-for-29 debacle against Duke (promise, this is the last time), three years ago, right here in the Meadowlands, in the same building, in the same tournament or of any of the disappointments that followed.
They'll talk instead of the 15 points he scored in the first half in the space of 4 minutes, 10 seconds, after Temple had fallen behind, 8-0.
They'll talk about the three-pointer he made with 9.5 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game. He had just missed a three-pointer that bounced long, and Macon, in a blur, retrieved the ball and shot again. As he backpedaled, he yelled, "Good." And it was.
They'll talk about the regional semifinal game Friday, of how he scored the Owls' first six points in overtime to put Temple over the top.
And they'll talk most of all about the last shot yesterday, a three-pointer to tie, the shot everyone in the tri-state area knew that only Macon could take, the shot he launched from about 25 feet, over a collection of flying Carolina players, that fell short, just short.
Sure, you want to make the shot, but, my God, how much better does the story have to get than the hero falling on his sword in the last act?
Macon delivered 31 points (shooting 12-for-23), nine rebounds and subtracted about two years from Dean Smith's life expectancy.
Unfair? Life should always be this unfair.
"I'm very happy," Macon said after the game, answering the question. "I could be angry right now. I could be full of tears, but I'm not."
He had gotten this far one last time, and that was plenty.
For Carolina, it's different, of course. For Carolina, it's supposed to be this way every year, even though the Tar Heels hadn't made it to the Final Four since 1982. ACC teams have reached the championship round seven times in the interim, and the Carolina players don't need to be reminded of that any more than Macon needs to be reminded of the day no one is talking about anymore.
They almost didn't make it, however. Macon saw to that. Coach Dean Smith had his team line up against Macon man-to-man ("We don't do anything special for the star players we face," Smith said), with Hubert Davis or Henrik Rodl getting the honors. The idea is that the star player is going to get his points, anyway.
But in the end, after King Rice had hit two free throws to give Carolina a three-point lead with eight seconds to play, Smith switched Rick Fox, his star player, onto Macon. Fox, at 6 feet 7, represented a player the 6-5 Macon would have to shoot over. As Macon rushed down the floor, Rice came over to double-team. Pete Chilcutt raced to help out, but he got there too late. Macon, running at full speed, stopped, pulled up and let the ball fly as all the bodies flew toward him.
He said he thought the shot was good. "That's the way I always think," said Macon, a shooter's shooter to the end.
But it was short, and the game was all over but the crying.
The tears would come courtesy of Chaney, the emotional Temple coach who has taken it upon himself time and again to defend Macon, who will next take his jump shot to the NBA.
"Everyone wants to get to the Final Four," Chaney said. "It's a dream every coach has, but when you start out, you're just dreaming. I wanted so much to give these kids the opportunity to get there. And especially, to a very special young man, like Mark."
The tears were flowing, as Chaney rubbed his hands over his eyes.
"He has meant so much for so many people. And I know I'm a little selfish at this moment, but I hate to see him leave. . . . I only wish that every coach, high school or otherwise, could have a young man like him."
Well, sure, in a fair world. And we'd all get that last shot at redemption, too.