Hoyas, Tar Heels both ride what got them here
Georgetown rode Jeff Green. North Carolina used a game-breaking run. Business as usual for both teams, writes Andy Katz
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- USC coach Tim Floyd tossed the papers he holds throughout the game to the court, drawing a technical foul with 49 seconds remaining in the Trojans' Sweet 16 game against top-seeded North Carolina.
He might as well have tossed a white flag.
Floyd isn't the type to surrender anything, let alone a basketball game, but on this night the frustration he felt was, in part, due to an 18-0 run the Tar Heels used to steamroll his Trojans and turn a 16-point deficit into 74-64 victory.
Earlier in the evening, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings hadn't felt the need to hurl anything on the court. He had every reason to believe his players were about to celebrate a Sweet 16 upset of No. 2 seed Georgetown. Instead, on one play by Jeff Green, the most versatile player left in the tournament field (and maybe in the nation, because of his passing), the Commodores' season was over.
The combination of The Shot and The Run sets up a dream East Regional final on Sunday, and how both teams got to this point really defines them this season.
The Hoyas have, by far, the most unheralded Big East Player of the Year in recent history. Green has received a number of superlatives from his peers, coaches and broadcasters this season, but no one would blame mainstream America if it hasn't caught on to Green's magnificent talent.
Quite simply, Green is a go-to player who doesn't need to take a shot. It's rare that a go-to guy doesn't always have to score, but there have been plenty of times this season when Green would set up the play, rather than complete it. He also has had his share of big shots, such as the daggers he delivered against Villanova and Notre Dame in Big East play.
On Friday night's decisive play, Green had options -- notably to find Patrick Ewing Jr. -- but instead he opted to take the ball himself, drive inside, spin and convert with 2.5 seconds remaining.
"He's my security blanket," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said of Green. "And I'm Linus [of Peanuts fame].
"I just put the ball in his hands," said Thompson, who will be coaching in his first-ever Elite Eight on Sunday. "I trust his instincts. He is the smartest player I know. He knows what to do in situations. It's comforting. He's so intelligent and makes the right decision."
Vandy's Neltner said he came over to help Foster, leaving Ewing Jr., and still can't figure out how Green got through to the hoop. He said it all happened so fast.
"He just squirmed his way through, I guess," Neltner said. "He's so versatile, at 6-8, 6-9 where he can shoot, penetrate, pass. I thought we had him stopped on that last play."
You can argue that Green traveled, if you'd like, although one person I know who has officiated e-mailed me Friday night and said a player is allowed to "alight" on his non-pivot foot to shoot or pass. There could be a debate over whether his right foot slipped a little, causing a violation, but in stepping through the Commodores' double-team, Green executed a textbook move to complete the play.
Green says he didn't travel. If anything, he said, "I probably got pushed and they didn't call it."
Green did call glass, not that he had much vision of the rim when he released the game winner
"I didn't have [a clean look]" he said. "I just had to get the ball over the top of them and put it on the glass."
"He's just so comfortable in the post, as he is on the perimeter," Thompson said. "He has the skills to get his own shot. He's so unselfish, and so many times he makes the pass, but [Friday] he decided to shoot."
The Tar Heels will have just as hard a time defending Green, trying to figure out what his next move is. The other skill the Hoyas have that the Trojans seemed to lack in the second half is the ability to rebound. North Carolina's relentless work on the offensive backboard in the second half led to the run that left the Trojans' flustered.
What did it feel like to go on an 18-0 run to take control of a game, and to do it without Tyler Hansbrough scoring a point?
"I can't explain it," UNC freshman guard Wayne Ellington said. "It felt like we were playing Carolina basketball."
The run was happening so fast that UNC freshman point Ty Lawson said he had no idea how many points the Tar Heels had scored in a row.
"I just knew we were back in the game," Lawson said.
"Was it 18-0?" USC freshman guard Daniel Hackett asked. "It was about controlling the boards."
"It was just an inability to rebound," said Floyd, whose Trojans allowed 13 second-half offensive boards as the Tar Heels took 37 second-half shots to USC's 27. North Carolina made only 2 of 14 3s on the night, but had just nine turnovers to USC's 18, and continued to attack, attack, and attack some more on the offensive backboard.
"Everybody says we're young, but this was good for us and showed how we can make stops," Hansbrough said. "An 18-0 run is pretty good, especially when I'm a big offensive contributor to the team and [to not score] shows the depth we have on this team."
Carolina, the most talented and deep team remaining in the field, has plenty of playmakers, so getting down by 16 doesn't seem to rattle them one bit. When they turn it on and get out on a run, they can be as demoralizing as Green slicing through multiple defenders for a game-winning shot.
Now The Playmaker and Team Tidal Wave will collide on Sunday in what has been the most anticipated Elite Eight matchup since the bracket was announced.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.