For the first time in nearly two decades, North Carolina went to the NCAA tournament and didn't win a game.
The Tar Heels' 76-74 first-round loss to Weber State and its spectacular forward, Harold "The Show" Arceneaux, left North Carolina players in stunned disbelief Thursday night.
"I didn't imagine we'd lose in the first round," Ademola Okulaja said. "Now we're going to watch the rest of the tournament on TV. We now fly six to eight hours back home. We'll have plenty of time to think about what happened."
What happened was an unstoppable performance by Arceneaux.
"Just to get the opportunity to play against North Carolina kind of psyched me up a little bit," he said.
Arceneaux punctuated a 36-point performance by making two free throws with 13.3 seconds left as Weber State handed the Tar Heels their first opening-game NCAA loss in 19 years.
"We're definitely the better team," North Carolina's Ed Cota said. "But in this tournament, the best team doesn't always win."
| Kris Lang and the Tar Heels couldn't make the shots when they needed them. (AP)|
Arceneaux, who grew up in New Orleans and found his way to Ogden, Utah, after stops at two junior colleges, made 5 of 7 3-pointers. He scored 20 points in the second half. Weber State hit 14 of 26 3-pointers, 7 of 10 in the second half.
"The best thing about him is his concentration," Weber State coach Ron Abegglen said. "I know it's a big game I know it's North Carolina. But when he gets going, he can block everything out. I've had only a few players in 38 years of coaching who can even come close to what Harold can do with his concentration."
The Tar Heels' were much bigger and taller than the Wildcats, but Weber State was much quicker.
"We were not taking advantage of our size like I thought we would," North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. "We were not able to get the ball in to them where they could do any damage."
North Carolina's 7-foot center, Brendan Haywood, was just 0-for-3 from the field with no rebounds in 24 minutes.
Still, North Carolina nearly pulled it out after trailing by 10 with 3:59 to play.
Okulaja, who scored 17 points, hit his fifth 3-pointer with 31.6 seconds to go to cut the lead to 70-68 with 31.6 seconds to go. Then Max Owens, just 2-for-11 from the field, made a 3-pointer with 23.8 seconds remaining to make it 72-71.
Noel Jackson sank the first of a 1-and-1 opportunity with 22.8 seconds to play to stretch the lead to 73-71. Vasco Evtimov had a chance to tie the game with 15.4 seconds to go but managed to make just one of two free throws.
Weber State (25-7) seemed to have clinched it after Arceneaux's two free throws made it 75-72 and Owens threw the ball away. But the Wildcats' Eric Ketcham threw the inbounds pass right into Cota's hands, and the Tar Heels guard made a layup to cut it to 75-74.
When Jackson was fouled as soon as the ball was inbounded, only 1.2 seconds remained. He made one of two free throws and Arceneaux intercepted the long downcourt pass at the buzzer as Weber State fans stormed the KeyArena court.
Eddie Gill, an 87 percent free throw shooter, made four in a row in the last 40.6 seconds for the Big Sky Conference champion Wildcats.
Weber State outscored the Tar Heels 9-2 on three 3-pointers to start the second half, and didn't trail again.
Gill added 16 points for the Wildcats. Cota scored 20 to lead North Carolina.
North Carolina (24-10) was making a record 25th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. The Tar Heels hadn't lost an opening game since they were beaten by Texas A&M 72-68 in double-overtime in 1980.
Arceneaux scored all 11 of Weber State's points in a 4-minute, 12-second stretch late in the second half, his driving bank shot giving the Wildcats a 68-61 lead with 1:56 to play.
North Carolina finally used its size advantage in a sequence that triggered its final rally. Kris Lang scored inside and was fouled with 1:47 to play, cutting the lead to 68-63. He missed the free throw, but Evtimov tipped in the rebound to slice the lead to 68-65 with 1:44 to go.
The last time Weber State was in the tournament, in 1995, the Wildcats stunned third-seeded Michigan State in the first round. This time, with Abegglen retiring at season's end, Weber State's offense was too much for the Tar Heels.
Weber State as trouble for North Carolina almost from the start. The Wildcats led 24-17, then North Carolina went on a 9-0 run to go ahead 26-24 with 4:09 left in the half. That was the Tar Heels' last lead.
After eight seasons at Weber State, Abegglen announced his retirement last August after he was suspended for three weeks when accused of domestic abuse by his wife.
© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved