A timeline of my trip to the Syracuse Regional this past weekend:
10:45 a.m.: Board train to Syracuse. It’s more packed than I thought, but seems like more of an Easter than a basketball crowd. (I later discover this is not the case).
11:00 a.m.: That Guy just took his seat behind me. He immediately begins a conversation in deafening volume with his wife. How does this always happen to me? My dad inevitability gets stuck next to an obese man or a shrieking baby on every plane flight. Maybe I’m genetically predisposed to have That Guy find me. Anyway, at this point I’m certain I’ll be subjected to a five-hour discourse on every inane detail of his life.
12:00 p.m.: That Guy’s been repeatedly challenging his wife to tic-tac-toe. No joke. He must be too old for thumb-wrestling. Fortunately, the rigors of the game seem to have silenced him.
4:00 p.m.: Arrive in Syracuse. A lot more people disembark than I would have guessed, and many of them are sporting Villanova gear. Since I’m intent on seeing North Carolina go down, I take this to be a good sign.
4:15 p.m.: My buddy from Syracuse picks me up from the train station, and we drive to campus. There’s obviously a lot of juice in this town. NCAA signs are everywhere, as are scalpers looking to make deals.
7:20 p.m.: Arrive at the Carrier Dome. Section 316, Row P is more or less directly behind the north end basket and about two miles up. Hey, I’m just happy to be there. Also, I can’t help but notice the sea of Carolina blue below me.
7:40 p.m.: Wisconsin-N.C. State tips off. Not that I mind watching two teams that struggle to score in the 60s, but I have to admit I was hoping to see UConn-Kansas. Also, as a Duke fan, I’m a little distracted watching scoreboard updates from Duke-Michigan State.
8:40 p.m.: I can’t take it. I’m going to Marshall Street to watch the Duke game.
9:40 p.m.: Michigan State 78, Duke 68. Can’t say I didn’t see this one coming. UNC kids are exuberant and a little too happy that Duke might have caught a bad break on Shelden Williams’s dunk being ruled a miss since Duke supposedly gets all the calls. The Tar Heel fans will feel differently in a couple of hours.
9:45 p.m.: Walk back to the Carrier Dome with hordes of Carolina fans. My buddy obliges them with “Let’s go ‘Nova” chants that somehow manage to catch a spark within the few pockets of Villanova supporters.
Tip-off: This game was the one that most excited me since I think that ‘Nova, even without Curtis Sumpter, has the best chance to beat UNC.
6:00 left in first half: Villanova got off to a ridiculous start and 21-9 lead. By the six-minute mark, they’re up 30-19. Despite the plurality of Carolina fans, it’s clear the crowd will be pulling for the underdog.
2:30: Watching Roy Williams is outright hysterical. During the Wildcat flurry, he whirled around in circles and faked throwing his jacket into the stands. During UNC’s run before the half, he did bizarre things like crouching low to the floor and flexing. Even from my seat, I could see veins popping out of his forehead. These are the things you just can’t appreciate from television.
18:00 in the game: Just woke up. It’s hard to fall asleep in an arena packed with 30,000 people, but that’s what I did during the half.
8:45 left: UNC leads 50-45, and it’s definitely looking interesting. The Tarheels are in serious foul trouble when Raymond Felton picks up his fourth foul, and Sean May already has three.
4:30 left: Sean May just committed his 11th foul, but the scoreboard still says three for some reason. Carolina pulled away a little to 61-52 when May finally picks up his fourth foul. It’s about time. I’m trying to figure out what it will take for the refs to actually call a fifth. My buddy speculates that the officials will have no choice if May gets in a car and runs over ‘Nova’s frontline. I disagree, “Only if he doesn’t signal.”
2:25 to go: Rashad McCants got hot to stretch the lead to 10, but Felton just fouled out. UNC, actually just Roy Williams, seems to lose composure.
0:11 left: I’ll spare the details on the “travel” because I’m sure everyone who’s reached this point in the column knows what I’m talking about. Allan Ray knocks down a runner and a whistle blows. Everyone’s thinking three-point play, and the crowd gets furious when traveling is called. After an entire game’s worth of breaks for UNC, people have had enough. The fact that two monitors are showing replays certainly doesn’t help the refs’ cause.
Final: 67-66, UNC. Even from my vantage point, I can see debris hit the court. The refs get a hearty booing as they scurry off the floor. My buddy’s a little excited and shouting things about UNC that I can’t quite print here. Amazingly, no Tarheels want to fight him, probably because they feel guilty.
2:00 p.m.: Start the walk up to the Carrier Dome. Even my friend is momentarily quieted by all the blue.
2:35 p.m.: UNC’s warm-ups are intimidating. They’re doing a drill where the entire team runs in place before diving for an imaginary loose ball. Looks cool.
Tip-off: Sean May looks unstoppable right away, totaling six points in the first two minutes. It looks like UNC has too many athletes and the game’s bound to get away from Wisconsin.
15:00 in first half: After a Jackie Manuel break-away lay-up, I’m introduced to my newest source of entertainment when a slurred voice behind me exclaims, “No, that’s a technical foul on you, Mr. Zebra!” Yikes, it’s 3:00 p.m. on Easter Sunday and this guy is sauced out of his mind. Also, his wife and daughter are sitting next to him.
13:00 left: Carolina leads 20-11 after May notches his 10th point. Drunk guy: “Whoahh, somebody went to fancy footwear camp!” Somehow, this makes perfect sense to me. If the game becomes a rout, at least I know I can still have a great time listening to this wasted guy and watching Roy Williams gesticulate like a maniac.
6:37: 30-22, UNC. At time-outs, the main Carolina section yells “Tar!” and the other UNC fans scattered throughout the dome respond with “Heel!” I just realized that the dude behind my buddy is the only person near us participating, and I think he’s doing it because he remembers us from Friday night. That’s the thing about this type of event. If you cheer against a winning team, you have to come back and face down their fans again two days later. Also, Sean May just pushed a Wisconsin player out of bounds and no foul was called. This only reinforces my belief that refs should not be allowed to bet on games.
1:47: Wisconsin scores four straight points to cut the deficit to 44-37, as people actually start to get behind the Badgers for the first time all day.
Halftime: Tied at 44, but I feel like Wisconsin is losing because the pace of the game favors UNC so much.
17:48 left: Wisconsin caps a 16-0 run to take a 49-44 lead. Unfortunately, UNC answers with a 14-0 spurt ending at the 14:53 mark.
8:17: Wisconsin is hanging around down 70-67. The series the Badgers just had pretty much typifies the rest of the game though. Trailing 68-67, they allowed UNC to attempt three trifectas, before Manuel tipped in the third miss.
1:08: The Badgers could never get over the hump. They pulled to within a single point three times, but didn’t get enough defensive stops.
Final: 88-82. As my buddy and I exit, a few Carolina fans pass along some holiday wishes to our family members. Still, I have to admit UNC’s execution down the stretch was incredible. McCants hit a dagger from three, and Felton netted six straight free-throws. Considering May was unstoppable with 29 points and 12 boards, I’m impressed the game was so close. UConn and Kansas didn’t make the trip, but I was still happy with the caliber of games I saw. My goals for the trip were to have a good time, see some quality games, and watch a UNC upset. But hey, two out of three isn’t too bad.