ST. LOUIS — The image I’ll remember most from North Carolina’s 80-67 loss against Kansas on Sunday in the NCAA tournament Midwest regional final didn’t happen on the court. It came instead afterward, in the Tar Heels’ locker room. It was Harrison Barnes, sitting motionless in front his locker, his head under a blue towel.
The scenes inside UNC’s locker room were what you would expect, mostly. It was quiet when reporters filed in. The players were spread about, sitting silent. Most stared at the ground. Most had red eyes. None of this was unexpected. Nor was it to see Barnes in front his locker, hunched over in a chair with that towel draped over him.
The moments passed, and the scenes changed. Players spoke to reporters. Some headed to the showers. Some came back, dressed, packed up their things. All the while, though, Barnes didn’t move. His teammates left him alone, mostly, while media members walked by, waiting for Barnes to emerge.
One minute turned into five, which turned into 10. Barnes hadn’t moved.
During the game, Barnes had made 5 of his 14 field attempts and finished with 13 points. Against Ohio on Friday night, he missed 13 of his 16 field goal attempts and finished with 12 points. The back-to-back performances were among Barnes’ worst of the season, and they came at the worst of times.
Ten minutes turned into 15. And still more time passed. Barnes hadn’t moved.
Finally a longtime ACC beat reporter, Bill Cole of the Winston-Salem Journal, leaned over and politely asked Barnes if he’d talk. And after 17 minutes under cover, Barnes lifted his head and showed his face.
What had he been thinking about for that long? Someone asked him after a while.
“Just disbelief,” he said. “We had a position, got an opportunity to win that game. And we didn’t come through. I missed a lot of shots I usually make. And big-time players come through in big-time games.
“And it just wasn’t there tonight.”