Jeff Roberson, Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Ohio came within a free throw of pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history.
Trying to become the first team seeded 13th or worse to make the regional finals since the tournament expanded in 1985, the Bobcats could have taken the lead over top-seeded North Carolina on a three-point play with 25 seconds left in regulation. But Walter Offutt missed from the line, and Ohio went 0 for 6 from the field as the Tar Heels escaped with a 73-65 victory in the first overtime game of this year's tournament.
"One free throw away," Offutt said. "As a leader on this team, I take responsibility that I got to hit that free throw. ... It just feels terrible to kind of let my team down in that sort of way."
The Bobcats (29-8) have nothing to be ashamed of, though.
The last of the so-called "little guys" in the tournament, they gave North Carolina everything it could handle and then some.
And the Tar Heels knew it.
"We feel like we got away with one," said Tyler Zeller, who led North Carolina with 20 points and a career-high 22 rebounds, one of three Tar Heels to finish with a double-double. "Ohio played the better game, they hit a lot of shots. I think we just were able to make a lot of plays at the end that made us capable of pulling it out."
Offutt led the Bobcats (29-8) with 26 points, including 18 from 3-point range, and Nick Kellogg added 14. But D.J. Cooper, who had averaged 20 points in the first two tournament games, finished with just 10 on 3-of-20 shooting.
Reggie Bullock had 17 points and 10 boards, and John Henson had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Harrison Barnes finished with 12, five below his season average, but he scored five in overtime.
"Probably the ugliest win I've ever been a part of," Bullock said.
Though North Carolina was playing without star point guard Kendall Marshall, the Tar Heels made the most of their decided size advantage early. Zeller and John Henson pounded the ball inside possession after possession as the Tar Heels (32-5) jumped out to a double-digit lead midway through the first half — and it looked as if this would be one more in a series of lopsided games between the haves and have-nots.
But the 13th-seeded Bobcats got hot from long range, going 8 of 13 from 3-point range in the second half. Offutt did most of the damage, making three 3-pointers during a 14-5 run that pulled the Bobcats to 42-41 with 10:23 to play.
"We didn't really change anything at halftime," Kellogg said. "Coach just told us to continue to be shot ready because we knew we were getting pretty decent looks there in the first half. They just weren't falling for us. So coach told us to stick with it, continue to be ready to shoot the ball, and eventually they would start falling."
After a Zeller layup and a dunk by James Michael McAdoo, Cooper hit his only 3 of the game. Kellogg came right back with another to give Ohio its first lead, 47-46 with 8:28 to play, and the Ohio faithful — plus all the new fans they picked up — went into a frenzy.
The teams traded leads, neither able to put the other away. When Barnes missed badly on a 3 with 1:17 to play, the crowd taunted him with chants of "Air-ball!" ''Air-ball!" But Williams could be heard yelling "One stop!" at his team, and the Tar Heels got it when Cooper missed on a jumper at the other end.
Bullock then drilled a 3 to give North Carolina a 63-61 lead with 39 seconds left, but Offutt — who else? — scored on an off-balance jumper and drew a foul by Stilman White, Marshall's fill-in, in the process. Offutt's attempt was way left, the only free throw the Bobcats missed all night, and Zeller grabbed the rebound.
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