CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina fell apart, and so has its confidence about receiving an NCAA tournament bid.
The fourth-seeded Tar Heels were shut out for the final 2: 47, collapsing to fifth-seeded Wake Forest, 58-52, yesterday in an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinal. After tying the game at 52, North Carolina misfired on its last five shots as chants of "NIT!" grew louder throughout the crowd of 23,895.
The Tar Heels (18-13) have placed their NCAA record of 29 seasons with at least 20 victories in serious jeopardy, but that's the least of their worries. They had no answers for yesterday's breakdown or if they'll be extended an NCAA invitation tomorrow.
"If we don't, it wouldn't surprise me," said Carolina point guard Ed Cota. "We're one of the best teams. We just had a tough year."
Wake Forest (18-13) has won three straight for the first time since December on the resurgence of guard Robert O'Kelley. A preseason first-team All-ACC pick, O'Kelley was mired in the worst shooting slump of his career before carrying the Demon Deacons for a critical two-minute span.
With Wake ahead 48-47, O'Kelley had a hand in the Demon Deacons' next eight points, hitting three baskets and assisting on the other. His drive around Joseph Forte on the left side increased the lead to 56-52 with 1: 39 left. Wake sixth man Craig Dawson then topped off his 17-point performance with two free throws with 22 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
The Demon Deacons move on to meet top-seeded Duke (25-4), which beat Wake twice this season.
"I didn't get down on myself," said O'Kelley, who shook off a 1-for-6 start from the field to finish with nine points. "I knew that I could make big plays."
Said Wake coach Dave Odom: "I think it was time for him to do that."
By game's end, Carolina had its fewest points scored (52) and worst shooting day (.375) of the season. Although no team with nine ACC regular-season wins has ever been shunned by the NCAA selection committee since the field expanded to 64 teams, the Tar Heels admitted they're worried.
"It's frustrating, but there's nothing you can do about it," Cota said.