GREENSBORO, N.C. - For most of the second half, it looked like North Carolina was about to take a big step in the right direction.
But instead of an upset win against No. 22 Texas that likely would have put the Tar Heels back into the national polls, Carolina found out what can happen when they don't close out an opponent.
"If you love college basketball, it was an exciting game," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "But we don't just love college basketball. We love to win."
Texas guard Cory Joseph made a fade-away jumper from near the top of the key with 1.4 seconds remaining to give Texas a 78-76 win against North Carolina at the Greensboro Coliseum.
After UNC advanced the ball to halfcourt and called a timeout, freshman point guard Kendall Marshall missed a desperate 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
The play was designed initially to go to freshman Harrison Barnes who hit a 3-pointer with 12.7 seconds to go that tied the game at 76, but Tyler Zeller couldn't get him the ball.
"At the end of the game, they made plays and we didn't," Zeller said.
The Tar Heels led for most of the second half, though the advantage was never more than seven points, until Texas retook the lead with three minutes to go.
From there, Carolina (7-4) scored on back-to-back shots in the paint from Zeller before the Longhorns (9-2) rattled off six straight points to grab the three-point edge with 21 seconds to go.
"We're not a confident team right now," Williams said. "We're a very ticked off team right now because we had some chances."
Had it not been for the ending, there might have been plenty for Williams to be happy about.
After a poor start, the Tar Heels looked as aggressive at times as they have all season.
Dexter Strickland tied a career high with 18 points, and he did most of that damage by driving to the basket and pushing the ball in transition. He also hit his first 3-pointer in eight games.
"Dexter has a toughness about him that's very important to us," Williams said.
The rest of the Tar Heels displayed some toughness of their own by not getting beaten on the boards the way they did against the Longhorns last year, when Texas grabbed 60 rebounds to Carolina's 41 in a 103-90 win.
The game threatened to go that way early, when second chances on the glass - as well as UNC turnovers - helped Texas to a 10-0 run midway through the first half and eventually a 10-point lead.
Throughout the first half, Williams exhorted his players - both on the floor and the bench - to box out and go to the boards.
Finally Carolina got more aggressive, both attacking the rim and getting on the glass, and finished the first half with a 15-4 flourish that gave them a 33-32 lead going into the locker room.
They carried the intensity into the second half and started getting second-chance points of their own, especially when Texas went to a zone defense because of foul trouble.
That was good enough to have them enjoying that seven-point lead with less than six minutes to go.
But they couldn't close the game out, they way they did in wins against Kentucky and Long Beach State.
"We just missed shots," Zeller said. "I missed an easy one. John (Henson) missed an easy one. We just missed shots and didn't defend as well as we should have. They're a good team, but I felt like we had the game under control for a while and then it fell apart for a while. You can't do that in games like these."